Cumin refers to the dried seed of Cuminum cyminum, a Middle Eastern plant in the parsley family. The warm, earthy, and spicy-but-not-hot flavor of this spice is used whole or powdered to season a variety of foods, including some cheeses, pickles, and curries. A staple in Indian, Middle Eastern, African, and Latin American cuisines, cumin is a common ingredient in many spice blends, such as garam marsala, adobos, dhana jeera, curry powder and chili powder.
The Sanskrit name for cumin seed is jiraka, which means “that which helps digestion." The spice has long been used to enhance digestion and to stimulate the appetite and, when taken in water, to settle an upset stomach. One of the key compounds responsible for cumin's carminative properties -- cuminaldehyde -- is also the source of the spice's distinctive aroma. When ingested, cuminaldehyde stimulates the salivary glands, which promotes better digestion of foods. At the same time, another agent called thymol stimulates bile secretion and enzymatic activity in the intestinal tract.
Throughout Asia, most notably in India, cumin water, or jeera, is a popular beverage, either taken with meals or throughout the day as a tonic. Aside from enjoying the benefits of its anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting qualities, jeera has been used for thousands of years to assist weight loss. Because cuminaldehyde increases gastric secretions and improves digestion, drinking this cumin-infused water helps to create a sensation of fullness, which translates to eating smaller portions of food.
How to Make Jeera
Boil 4 cups of filtered water. Stir in 2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds. Remove from heat and cover. Let steep for 20 minutes. Strain off the seeds, reserving the infused liquid. Serve at room temperature.
K.S. Muthamma Milan, Hemang Dholakia, Purnima Kaul Tiku, Prakash Vishveshwaraiah; Enhancement of digestive enzymatic activity by cumin (Cuminum cyminum L.) and role of spent cumin as a bionutrient. Food Chemistry, Volume 110, October 2008, 678-683.