Last May I had the pleasure of helping to coordinate a webinar on spices and the role they play in traditional diets.  From the amazing variety of flavors to their health benefits, spices serve up a splendid array of offerings.

Since the webinar I have really ramped up my use of spices in cooking as well as having expanded my spice collection.  The more time I spend at Oldways the more I have been discovering the vast and varied world of spices. Needless to say I am in great need of a larger spice rack!

One spice that I am ever increasing my respect for is cumin. Native to Egypt, its origins date back thousands of years. Used not only in cooking, cumin was actually a form of currency paid to priests as tithes. It was also used as an ingredient in mummification.  And, interestingly enough, cumin has a romantic side!  In the Middle Ages it became known as a symbol of fidelity and love; it was carried in pockets of wedding attendees and wives baked it into bread and sent their husbands off to war with these loaves.

Cumin is a spice that is very familiar in Mediterranean cuisine but has also found its way into recipes and spice mixtures around the world.  Think about the familiar flavor of Cuban black beans or a Moroccan tagine or an Indian Dal and cumin is there singing its flavorful song. Cumin is available in three colors – white, amber, and black. (We mostly see amber cumin.)  You can buy it in seed or powder form.  It can be toasted to further bring out its warm earthy flavors.  (And we highly suggest toasting if you have not yet done so!)

Like other spices cumin has many antioxidant qualities that promote well-being.  From offering anti-inflammatory properties to aiding in digestion and absorption of nutrients, cumin is also a source of iron.

One of my new favorite recipes that highlights the lovely flavor of cumin is this black bean hummus.  (At my husband’s request, I have been making this recipe at least once at week!)

Black Bean Hummus


1 large can black beans, rinsed and drained
Juice of 1 lemon
3 tablespoons canola or olive oil
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 — 3 garlic cloves, crushed
2 teaspoons aleppo pepper
1 — 2 tablespoons cumin
½ teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a food processor or a large bowl (if using an immersion blender). Blend for desired consistency and serve with your favorite crudité.


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