Black Cumin

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

black cumin is a name which can either indicate a rare, dark, variety of true cumin or (more commonly) a spice consisting of the seeds of Nigella sativa, native to the Levant.

In spite of being called black cumin, the latter does not resemble cumin in taste; nor is it botanically related. (It is, however, closely related to love-in-the-mist, N. damascena, whose seeds are also used as a condiment.)

Nigella sativa is sometimes cultivated on a small scale in N. India, but is mainly collected from wild plants in forests. The seeds are small, dull black, roughly wedge shaped, and pungent. They are used in India, including in the spice mixture panch phoron, and also in the Middle East where they give a distinctive flavour to products such as cheese (e.g. the so-called ‘naboulsi’ cheese and haloumi). Black cumin is also sprinkled on bread and used for flavouring vinegar and pickles etc. much as true cumin is.