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It’s always fascinating to me to learn about the health benefits of common kitchen spices. We use ground cumin powder when we make chili, tacos, curry, or fajitas (which is often!). In fact, cumin is the star in a whole host of Mexican, Spanish, Middle Eastern, and Indian dishes.
In the US, cumin is commonly used in packaged taco seasonings, but please … don’t eat those! Make a quick and easy spice mix (listed later in this post) and skip the sodium and fillers found in those little packets.
Cumin is so much more than just another spice to add to a spice blend. It has a distinct flavor that makes it a favorite for many, but of course its health-supporting properties are impressive too! I always order cumin in bulk by the pound and keep a quart-size mason jar in my spice cabinet for easy use. Here’s why:
A Little History of Cumin
Like cinnamon, cumin enjoys a long and venerable history. In fact, it’s one of the earliest herbs to be cultivated in Asia and Europe.
Originally indigenous to Egypt (the ancient Egyptians actually used it in their mummification process!), this tiny seed of a small plant belonging to the parsley family became popular in ancient Greece and Rome. Interestingly, in the Middle Ages cumin symbolized love and fidelity, and was often featured at weddings or baked into loaves of bread sent with soldiers into battle. Spanish and Portuguese colonists later introduced it to the Americas.
As with most spices, these and other cultures valued cumin not just for its scent and flavor but for its medicinal properties. Traditional texts describe its use as a diuretic, to settle the stomach, and to stop flatulence. Some cultures have used it for female health and to stimulate menstruation.
Like many herbs, cumin can be made into a poultice, especially for swelling or sore throat. I even found a reference to a remedy of mixing cumin and ghee to relieve hiccups!
Benefits of Cumin
This common spice has many uses and benefits as a remedy and has been well studied for its effects:
Source of Vitamins
Cumin is considered a good source of iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and other minerals. It also contains vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, and B6, as well as beneficial amino acids.
Some research shows cumin may stimulate the production of pancreatic enzymes and help digestion. This Cumin Coriander and Fennel Tea is my go-to for tummy aches and gas at our house. It’s also good for anyone trying to heal their gut.
Good for the Brain
One study found cumin protects against memory loss and the damaging effects of stress on the body. It stimulates the central nervous system, which has even sparked studies about its potential benefits in Parkinson’s disease patients.
Rich in Antioxidants
Another study evaluated its antioxidant content and found it more effective than other common antioxidants including vitamin C. Some lab research found that it might even have a role in fighting cancer.
May Help Balance Blood Sugar
Yet another study found cumin effective in increasing insulin sensitivity, making it beneficial for diabetics. In fact, a study looking at diabetic rats given cumin extract revealed that cumin was more effective at reducing blood glucose and AGE production than glibenclamide, an anti-diabetic drug.
Yet more research found that cumin extract reduced total cholesterol, triglycerides, and pancreatic inflammatory markers in diabetic rats. It even seems to stop excess weight gain.
Still more research found anti-asthmatic properties in cumin since it works as a brochiodiator and can help asthmatic patients. As an expectorant, it works to loosen phlegm and make it easier to remove.
Oral doses (25, 50, 100, 200 mg/kg) on consecutive days improved the immune response of mice with compromised immune systems due to restraint-induced stress. These effects were marked by a reduction in elevated cortisol and adrenal gland size, an increase in the weight of the thymus and spleen, and replenishment of depleted T cells. There was a dose dependent response, but all doses had beneficial effects.
Natural remedies for colds often include cumin for its potential ability to speed recovery. It is a rich source of vitamin C and iron, both of which can help recovery. The essential oils in cumin also make it helpful for the body in fighting an infection, and as mentioned some people find it offers relief from coughing and sneezing by drying up excess mucous.
TIP: Mix a little cumin powder with a little raw honey for a quick cold remedy.
Weight Loss + Detox
Cumin can even help with weight loss. This 2014 study examined the effects of consuming 3 grams (a little less than a teaspoon) of cumin daily. Both groups followed the same nutritional counseling and reduced caloric intake by 500 calories. After 3 months, the cumin-consuming group lost 3 pounds more than the non-cumin-consuming control group.
Research contributes this to cumin’s ability to modify fatty acid production in the liver due to its protective benefits. In this study cumin protected the livers of rats from toxicity due to consuming ethanol and rancid sunflower oil.
Good for Bones
Cumin had anti-osteoporotic effects on rats that rivaled medication but without the negative effects. More research is needed but it is generally considered a safe remedy.
Pretty impressive benefits for an herb found in spice packets at the grocery store! If you don’t already use cumin in your cooking, there are many ways to use it!
Ways to Use Cumin
This pungent spice has a plethora of culinary uses but it is so much more than just a spice! Try these many uses to get the benefits daily!
There are endless ways to use this spice in the kitchen. It is vital to these spice blends:
In a pinch (no pun intended) when I don’t have a spice blend made, I sometimes use just plain cumin to flavor tacos or fajitas and we hardly miss the other spices!
Adding cumin to omelets and egg scrambles also works well, or try it as a dry rub on meats before grilling. Sprinkle on veggies before roasting or add to some rice for a taco-flavored rice blend.
It may not be the first thing that comes to mind but cumin is also great in skin care recipes. Specifically, it makes an excellent face scrub when mixed with honey. It is naturally antibacterial and lightly exfoliating to scrub away impurities. A rich source of vitamin E, it also helps the skin repair damage and stay young looking.
It isn’t one of the most common essential oils due to its extremely pungent scent, but cumin essential oil is a great thing to keep in the remedy cabinet. Diluted, it can be used externally to calm the stomach. Or add a drop to a diffuser blend to ease nausea and purify the air.
Add this CCF detoxification tea to your routine for the digestive and weight loss benefits.
Where to Buy Cumin
Of course you can purchase this amazing little spice at most grocery stores, but just make sure it is a high quality one. I normally order it here because it’s organic and tastes great!
Cautions and Risks
Cumin is a culinary herb and is generally considered safe and non-toxic even in moderate doses. I add it liberally to food and the taste buds are generally a great guide on the proper amount to consume.
At medicinal high doses there are some potential effects. It may decrease testosterone in very large doses so men may not want to consume large amounts for long periods of time. It is used in high doses to start menstruation so caution should be used with large doses in pregnant women as there may be a risk of miscarriage.
Due to the blood sugar, brain, and immune effects listed above, anyone with a medical condition should absolutely consult a doctor before using larger than culinary amounts of this spice.
This article was medically reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Pfleghaar, D.O., FACEP, ABOIM. Dr Jennifer is a double board certified physician and is now working in Emergency Medicine and has an office in Ohio practicing Integrative Medicine. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Do you use cumin? What is your favorite dish or recipe that uses cumin? Share below!