How to use black cumin seed, plus a recipe!
Black cumin seed is wonderful on so many things. Some people like it steeped as a tea, others mix it with royal jelly and spread it on toast, and some people enjoy it sprinkled on melon. How you enjoy it most is up to you.
If you’re wondering, “what is black cumin seed?” you’re not alone. Here’s what you need to know before you buy a bag or jar and start experimenting!
What is Black Cumin Seed?
There are two different spices that can be called “black cumin.” The one we’re talking about is the more common Nigella sativa. (The other one is called Bunium bulbocastanum.) Nigella sativa looks almost like large pepper seeds, and can be eaten straight from the package or cooked.
Originally from South Asia and the Mediterranean, black cumin seeds were not only in India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan; they were found in King Tut’s tomb and written about in the Bible (1). Their benefits have been celebrated for thousands of years. Some people use them to help combat allergies, pain, or inflammation (2). Others might be impressed by the array of studies that show black cumin supports liver health and may have anti-cancer properties. Black seed oil is derived from these seeds and can be used topically as well as internally.
Black cumin seeds grow out of an herb that is a member of the parsley family, and they have hints of parsley mixed with fennel in their flavor. They do contain copper, zinc, iron, healthy fats, protein and a little carbohydrate (3). But since it’s recommended to only have 1/2-2 teaspoons of black cumin seeds per day, the amount of those things you get is very small. What you do get is thymoquinone, thymol, and thymohydroquinone, which is why black cumin seeds have been studied often and found to have a range of benefits from those listed above, as well as being antifungal, anti-inflammatory, super antioxidants, and more (4).
How to Use Black Cumin Seed
Be sure to remember that black cumin is not at all like cumin. The seeds are milder in flavor and a little more like a black pepper. You might find them in naan bread in India, or used in a stir fry in the Middle East. They are often used in curries, lentil dishes, as a garnish on vegetables, or even in pastries.
“The benefits are astounding,” says Eve Lahijani, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Los Angeles. She recommends sprinkling black cumin on anything you like. Some of her favorite soups, such as chicken or lentil, get a wonderful flavor boost from being garnished with black cumin just before serving. “You could put it in oatmeal or your favorite Greek yogurt for breakfast.” She likes hers with cucumber. “You use a little honey and then you get the anti-inflammatory benefit of the honey as well—two for one.”
Try black cumin seeds on steamed or stir-fried vegetables, sprinkled on fish with lemon, or in an omelet instead of black pepper. Experiment with it in a grilled cheese sandwich, or on top of a slaw. It’s not only good in naan bread, it also works with focaccia and other types of bread as well. If you’re daring, try it in a cookie recipe, because the fennel notes work well with both savory and sweet dishes.
Nigella seeds are also great mixed with other herbs and spices to create new flavors for meats, fish, or vegetables. They go well with most, but especially with mint, thyme, or paprika. You can mix black cumin seeds into soft cheeses to spread as well.
Fennel and Black Cumin Salad Recipe
This fennel salad gets a terrific boost from the black cumin and is fun over a cauliflower mash because of the variety of flavors and textures. It’s bright, light, and good for digestion.
Prep time: 7 minutes
Marinating time: 1 hour or more
Serves: Approximately 4-6
- 2 medium to large bulbs fresh fennel, trimmed and sliced
- 1 large or 2 smaller lemons
- 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Sea salt
- Black cumin seeds
Slice the fennel on the thinner side and place in a mixing bowl. Add a few sprinkles of sea salt and mix well. (You can use your hands.) Mix in the oil (now a spoon is probably best), parsley, juice from the lemons, and then sprinkle in black cumin seeds to your own taste. You might like a lot or a delicate sprinkle. Mix well and set on the counter for an hour. Mix again. You can serve now, or leave to continue marinating for several hours. Store in the refrigerator.