kū míng (小茴香)
Common in cuisines from the eastern Mediterranean to South Asia plus certain cuisines in the Americas, cumin is a spice with a long history — an ancient history, in fact.
In its native and surrounding regions, it’s been used for many thousands of years; cumin is known to have been common (and even integral) in ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian cuisine, and the cuisine of different ancient Middle Eastern and South Asian nations. Even before then, there’s documentation of cumin in these regions dating back further.
Since originating there, cumin spread throughout the Mediterranean in North Africa and Southern Europe, as well as west to certain inland regions of China, before being introduced to the Americas by traders during the age of exploration. Because of this era, it’s commonly associated in the US with certain regional Mexican cuisines and especially Tex Mex, where it’s a key ingredient in chili seasoning.
Cumin is commonly used by grinding the seeds into a powder, although the narrow seeds are also stove-toasted or fried before being added to dishes whole, too.
The flavors vary slightly depending on if these seeds are ground or not — just like with many spices, the whole seeds are a bit rounder and more complex — but generally cumin adds a warming, lightly smokey note to dishes. Along with being added to dishes themselves during cooking, it’s also a common ingredient in curry powders and spice mixtures like garam masala.
At Uwajimaya, you can find both whole seeds and cumin powder in the spice aisle of our grocery department!