In this article:
- Cumin is one of the most widely used spices in the world. It has a very high iron content that only a spoonful can cover nearly 22% of your daily iron requirement.
- Multiple health benefits are attributed to cumin, the most significant of which is its role in aiding digestion and weight loss. Hence, it is a beneficial herb for people suffering from diabetes and high cholesterol.
- While this spice may help manage diabetes and other health conditions, use caution if you are taking it with other medications to avoid any undue reactions.
- Cumin consumption is unlikely to induce an allergic reaction in most people. However, those with preexisting peanut allergies may react negatively to this spice and therefore should avoid it completely.
Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is a member of the parsley family. These spicy seeds are gray in color and have an oblong shape. This popular spice originated in the area that stretches from the East Mediterranean to South Asia, but it is now used all over the world.
Forms and Varieties of Cumin
Cumin seeds are often enjoyed either in whole or ground form. The seeds are dried and roasted and then ground into a powder, which is used in a variety of dishes.
Cumin has also been used in traditional medicine and culinary traditions in whole and ground forms. Cumin oil and cumin essential oil are also used.
There are three varieties of cumin:
- Ground cumin (Cuminum cyminum L.)
- Black cumin (Nigella sativa)
- Bitter cumin (Centratherum athelminticum L. Kuntze)
Nigella sativa is used medicinally around the world. Its seeds have been used in traditional medicine for respiratory ailments, chronic headaches, back pain, paralysis, infection, diabetes, inflammation, high blood pressure, and digestive issues.
Bitter cumin is part of the Asteraceae family. These seeds have a sharper taste than the other varieties and have been used in traditional medicine for ulcers, skin disease, and fevers. It is used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat coughs, diarrhea, and stomach issues and to eliminate phlegm. (3)
Cumin is also known to help with flatulence, inflammation, and spasms. It also works as an antioxidant. (4)
Nutritional Content of Cumin
One tablespoon of cumin contains 23 calories; 3 grams of carbohydrate, most of which is fiber; 1 gram of fat; and 1 gram of protein. (5)
Cumin is a good source of iron, with 1 tablespoon providing 4 mg or 22% of your daily needs. Additionally, it is a good source of manganese, calcium, and magnesium.
Why Include Cumin in Your Diet?
Cumin has been used for centuries in traditional medicine and is believed to help with a variety of ailments. Research does support some of cumin’s health properties, although evidence is still lacking on others.
1. Aids Digestion
Cumin has been used around the world to help digestion. It is a popular spice in Ayurvedic medicine used for digestive issues such as indigestion, bloating, diarrhea, gas, morning sickness, stomach pain, and nausea.
A compound in cumin called thymol is known to aid digestion by supporting the glands that produce digestive enzymes, acids, and bile.
In a recent case series, cumin extract reduced the symptoms associated with irritable bowel symptoms (IBS), including bloating, stomachache, mucus in the stool, fecal urgency, and incomplete stooling. Cumin also improved stool consistency and frequency. (6)
Note: Excessive consumption of cumin can cause heartburn and acid reflux.
In some studies, cumin was found to benefit digestion and relieve some symptoms associated with digestive disorders. However, most of these studies were small; therefore, more research is needed.
2. Promotes Weight Loss
Cumin has been used for weight loss. Some trials found cumin to be effective in reducing weight, but more research is needed.
A 2014 study showed that cumin may have helped overweight and obese women lose weight. (7)
For 3 months, the women consumed 3 grams of cumin mixed into yogurt at two meals daily. The control group took plain yogurt at two meals daily for 3 months. At the end of the trial, the cumin group saw reduced body fat, body weight, cholesterol, and waist circumference. (7)
Another study found that cumin had the same effects as Orlistat (a pharmaceutical weight loss medication) on the weight and body mass index (BMI) of overweight participants who took the spice for 8 weeks. They also saw benefits to their insulin metabolism. (8)
Cumin has shown promise to aid weight loss, but there is not enough evidence about the type or amount to take. Further research is needed.
3. Helps Control Diabetes
Cumin may help with diabetes control by influencing blood sugar levels. It should be used cautiously if taken with other medications that lower blood sugar levels.
In a recent study, complications due to diabetes were improved by vitamin E and cumin essential oil. The study also found that cumin had a broader impact and was more beneficial in controlling diabetes than vitamin E. (9)
Another study found that cumin decreased the fasting blood sugar level, hemoglobin A1c, and inflammatory markers in patients with diabetes. (10)
More studies are needed to understand how cumin works in individuals with diabetes. Additional evidence is needed to understand the pharmacological properties of this spice. (11)
Note: Because cumin may influence blood sugar during and after surgery, avoid using cumin 2 weeks prior to surgery. Due to cumin’s potential to lower blood sugar, caution must also be used when it is taken with diabetic medications as the blood sugar may decrease to dangerously low levels, causing hypoglycemia. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking cumin in addition to any prescribed medication for diabetes.
While there is evidence that cumin may be beneficial for diabetes, more research is needed to understand how cumin impacts diabetes and to establish its effectiveness in diabetes control.
4. Lowers Cholesterol
This earthy spice may help manage cholesterol levels and promote a healthy cardiovascular system.
A review of six studies revealed that the participants who took cumin saw decreased levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, sometimes referred to as “bad cholesterol.” (12)
In another study, a group saw a decrease in LDL cholesterol after receiving cumin. (13)
Research has shown that cumin influences cholesterol and may improve total and LDL cholesterol levels. However, there were limitations to these studies and more research is needed.
Other Possible Benefits
While there is some evidence about the following claims, more research is needed to validate if cumin truly has an effect on these conditions.
- Stress reduction and memory support: One animal study found that cumin works as an antioxidant and cumin extract may help to reduce stress and enhance memory. (14)
- Anti-inflammatory and analgesic: A few studies have demonstrated this potential benefit of cumin. (15)
- Urinary and sexual health: Cumin may act as a diuretic, decrease bloating, and increase sexual desire. A few studies done on animals suggested that cumin may improve sperm count. (18)
- Others: Cumin may help with cough and colds. Due to cumin’s iron content, it may improve blood quality. However, no studies are available yet to support this.
Safety and Side Effects of Cumin
Cumin is generally considered safe to consume. Only a few trials found side effects from cumin treatment, even if the spice was taken long term.
Chronic use of cumin may increase the risk of bleeding, breathing complications, and dermatitis. Pregnant and breastfeeding women , as well as those with ulcers or respiratory illness, should use caution when taking cumin. (16)(17)
Drug Interactions with Cumin
Cumin may lower blood sugar. Hence, taking cumin with other antidiabetic medications may result in hypoglycemia or dangerously low blood sugar.
Always speak with your doctor or pharmacist before taking cumin with other medications.
Allergic Reactions to Cumin
Allergies to spices can occur, although antibody-mediated reactions are very rare. There have been case reports of anaphylaxis in reaction to cumin, as well as oregano, thyme, coriander, and caraway.
In 2015, the FDA advised that people who are highly allergic to peanut avoid cumin with a manufacturing date before 2014, as some shipments of ground cumin tested positive for peanut protein. (19)
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
In some cultures, cumin use has been linked to miscarriage during pregnancy. The moderate consumption of cumin has not been linked to any adverse side effects, but speak with your doctor before taking cumin.
Cumin Seeds vs. Powder
Both whole cumin seeds and ground cumin powder can be purchased. Ground cumin powder is typically used to add a distinct earthy flavor to a dish.
Cumin seeds are commonly used in soups, sauces, and stews, allowing its oils to disperse throughout the dish. Cumin seeds can also be added to oils and marinades that will sit for quite a while, which allows the flavor to infuse. Toasting cumin seeds prior to cooking intensifies their flavor.
Cumin vs. Curcumin
Many people are hearing about curcumin and its health benefits. Curcumin is a chemical compound found in turmeric. Cumin is a seed from the parsley family.
These two sound similar but are actually quite different.
Cumin vs. Fennel
Fennel is a flowering plant that comes from the Apiaceae family. It is native to the Mediterranean region but is now grown around the world.
Fennel is a flowering herb with feather-like leaves. It grows to about 250 centimeters and is much taller than a cumin plant.
Cumin is from the parsley family. It grows to about 30-50 cm in height. Its stem is gray or dark green and it has long leaves and threadlike leaflets. Cumin seeds are similar in appearance to caraway seeds, which are also long and oval.
Cumin seeds are ground or used whole as a spice. Fennel’s bulb, leaves, and seeds are all used in cooking. Cumin is a good source of iron, whereas fennel is high in fiber and other minerals.
Cumin as a Substitute for Salt
Salt consumption can lead to high blood pressure, as the sodium causes the body to retain extra water. High blood pressure has been linked to cardiovascular diseases and kidney issues.
Using garlic, cumin, other spices, lemon juice, and vinegar can add flavor to food without using salt.
Cumin is the second most used spice in the world. Its flavor and aroma make it very appealing to many cultures.
Storage and Usage of Cumin
Ground cumin loses its flavor more quickly than whole seeds. Whole seeds can be ground using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
Whole seeds and powder should be stored in a glass container with a tight seal and kept in a cool, dry, dark place. Ground cumin will keep for 6 months, and whole seeds will keep for about 1 year.
The earthy flavor of cumin goes well with beans and legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, and black beans. Cumin seeds can be added to rice while steaming to give it flavor.
Cumin also is a nice complement to vegetables. Add cumin to vegetables while sautéing them.
Enjoy a cup of cumin tea by boiling whole seeds in water and allowing to sit for 8-10 minutes before drinking.
Add Cumin to Your Diet With Simple Recipes
Cumin Grilled Chicken
- 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to a thickness of ½ inch
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Oil a grill pan or grill grate. Heat to medium-high heat.
- Combine cumin, salt, and pepper.
- Rub the chicken breasts with olive oil.
- Sprinkle the spice mix onto the chicken breasts and rub until evenly coated.
- Grill the chicken breasts until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side.
- Remove from heat. Allow it to sit, covered, for about 5 minutes.
- Slice the chicken breasts and serve over salad or coleslaw.
- 8 medium golden potatoes, peeled and diced into cubes
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 350 °F.
- Oil a baking tray or spray it with a nonstick cooking spray.
- In a medium-sized bowl, add potato cubes and oil. Toss to combine.
- Then add cumin, salt, and pepper. Toss until the potatoes are coated evenly.
- Place the potatoes onto a baking sheet.
- Bake until brown and crispy, about 30 minutes.
- Turn potatoes midway through cooking.
Cumin is a popular spice that is well-loved for its unique flavor. It has many nutritional properties and offers many health benefits. Therefore, it can be a welcome addition to your diet.
Excessive cumin consumption may be harmful to your health, especially if you take medications for diabetes or seizures. Always talk with your doctor before taking new herbal supplements or oils.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Ms. Lily Chen, MS, RDN, APD, FAND
There is not enough evidence to establish a daily recommended intake of cumin at this time. Cumin used in everyday cooking is most likely safe, while cumin supplementation should be monitored closely.
There is not enough evidence to determine a safe level of cumin to consume in healthy individuals or pregnant women. Natural foods are not always safe and the dosage of intake is important to take into consideration.
Drinking adequate fluids is a great strategy to help with weight loss. This can be in the form of cumin water or other type of fluids (without additional sugars).
The key to getting rid of a hangover is drinking adequate fluids. Cumin has not been shown to have the same effect.
Cumin seeds are storehouses of iron. In fact, 6 grams of cumin contains 4.0 mg of iron, which provides 22% of the iron you need each day.
Consuming cumin in excessive amounts when taking diabetes medications may have an additional blood sugar-lowering effect and cause your blood sugar to drop too low.
As such, it is important to monitor your blood sugar closely.
Cumin may also cause a blood-thinning effect, and this is important to note when taking medications that slow blood clotting.
There is still much research needed to be done to understand the benefits and side effects of cumin more clearly. Cumin is not a miracle food. However, if consumed alongside an overall healthy diet, cumin can provide health benefits as well.
Cumin is packed with a variety of beneficial compounds such as essential fatty acids, polyphenols, and flavonoids. Some studies have shown a link between cumin and decreased cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Cumin is a spice that can be easily added to your dishes and different types of cuisines. Feel free to experiment with this spice as well as other spices you might have not used before. Feel free to experiment with this spice as well as other spices you might have not used before, as a healthy diet includes a variety of foods (including herbs and spices).
About Ms. Lily Chen MS, RDN, APD, FAND: Ms. Chen is a dietitian with a wealth of experience in clinical care, teaching, management, and research. She has been recognized as a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
She currently serves as the Strategic Communications Chair for the International Affiliate of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and as a Global Representative for Professionals in Nutrition for Exercise and Sport. She currently sees patients at Sydney Cognitive.