Cuminum cyminum (PROSEA)
- Protologue: Sp. pl.: 254 (1753); Gen. pl., ed. 5: 121 (1754).
- Family: Umbelliferae
- Chromosome number: 2n = 14
- Ligusticum cuminum (L.) Crantz (1767),
- Cuminum odorum Salisb. (1796).
- Cumin, Roman caraway (En)
- Cumin, faux anis, faux aneth (Fr)
- Indonesia: jinten putih (Javanese), jinten bodas (Sundanese), jinten poteh (Madurese)
- Malaysia: jintan puteh
- Burma (Myanmar): ziya
- Cambodia: ma chin
- Laos: th'ien kha:w
- Thailand: thian-khao, yira
Origin and geographic distribution
The origin of cumin is not known exactly but is thought to be in the area extending from the south-eastern Mediterranean to central Asia (formerly Turkestan). Cumin has been known since antiquity. Its cultivation is currently most important in China, India, Morocco, Cyprus, Egypt, Turkey, Iran and southern Russia. In other parts of the world, cultivation is only occasional; in South-East Asia, only in mountainous areas (e.g. in Indonesia).
Cumin fruits were highly prized in ancient civilizations as one of the best appetizers of all culinary spices. Today cumin has lost this prominent place in Europe except in some Dutch and French cheeses. However, the fruits are still used worldwide to flavour soups, rice, meat dishes, stews, cheese, bread, pickles, salad dressings, sausages, chutneys and sauerkraut. Only small quantities are needed to impart its taste to food. Ground fruits are an essential ingredient of curry and chili powder, especially in India, Egypt and Turkey. The essential oil distilled from the fruit is used as a condiment in various food products, but also in liqueurs and perfumes. In the United States cumin oil has the regulatory status "generally recognized as safe” (GRAS 2340/2343). The maximum permitted level in food products is 0.025%.
In traditional medicine the fruits are used (always in mixtures with other ingredients) as a stimulant, stomachic and astringent and to treat digestive and intestinal upsets such as diarrhoea and colic. In Peninsular Malaysia cumin is often pounded together with a variety of leaves and applied in poultices to treat a variety of diseases, although it is not obvious what good it does. The essential oil is used as stimulant, antispasmodic, carminative, diuretic, aphrodisiac, emmenagogue, and has a light anaesthetizing action. It is also used as a fungicide, insecticide and as a veterinary medicine. In Ethiopia pounded leaves are applied to the skin to treat skin disorders.
Production and international trade
Annual world production of cumin fruits is estimated at 50 000 t but statistics are rare. Cumin is mainly produced by smallholders (e.g. in India, 60 000 ha). Iran, Pakistan and Turkey are the major exporters. In the early 1990s the United States imported annually about 6000 t, with a total value of about US$ 12 million. In 1993 the world production of cumin essential oil was valued at about US$ 1 million for 15 t.
A fruit sample from Ethiopia was reported to have the following approximate composition per 100 g: water 7 g, protein 18 g, fat 4 g, carbohydrates 29 g, fibre 17 g, ash 6 g (Ca 605 mg, P 570 mg, Fe 175 mg), niacin 8 mg, ascorbic acid 3 mg, foreign matter (sand, etc.) 17 g. Dried cumin fruits contain 2.5-5% essential oil, usually obtained by steam distillation although hydrodiffusion gives the largest amounts. The oil is colourless at first, turning bright yellow later. Its approximate composition is: alcohols 2-5%, aldehydes and ketones 50-70%, ethers less than 1%, hydrocarbons 30-50%. Cuminaldehyde is the most important constituent, its presence varying between 20-72%. The dominant monoterpene hydrocarbons are β-pinene, γ-terpinene and p-cymene. The characteristic flavour of cumin is probably due to dihydrocuminaldehyde and monoterpenes. The odour and taste of cumin is described as strong, warm, pungent and persistent and is most popular in warmer climates (e.g. in Middle East, India and South America). A monograph on the physiological properties of cumin oil has been published by the Research Institute for Fragrance Materials (RIFM).
Cumin oil (from Egypt) (Source: Analytical Methods Committee, 1993)
- 21.0% β-pinene
- 21.0% cuminaldehyde
- 20.0% γ-terpinene
- 11.0% p-mentha-1,3-dien-7-al
- 9.7% para-cymene
- 8.9% p-mentha-1,4-dien-7-al
- 1.4% α-phellandrene
- 1.1% myrcene
- 1.0% α-pinene
- 0.7% limonene
- 0.5% terpinen-4-ol
- 0.5% carotol
- 0.4% β-farnesene
- 0.3% β-phellandrene
- 0.3% α-terpineol
- 0.3% β-caryophyllene
- 0.2% α-thujene
- 0.2% 1,8-cineole
- 0.2% cumin alcohol
- 0.1% α-terpinene
- 0.1% terpinolene
- 98.9% total
Cumin oil (from India) (Source: Baser et al., 1992)
- 30.0% γ-terpinene
- 25.5% cuminaldehyde
- 16.0% para-cymene
- 9.1% p-mentha-1,3-dien-7-al
- 8.9% β-pinene
- 2.7% p-mentha-1,4-dien-7-al
- 0.6% α-pinene
- 0.6% p-menth-3-en-7-al
- 0.3% sabinene
- 0.3% myrcene
- 0.3% α-phellandrene
- 0.3% limonene
- 0.3% β-phellandrene
- 0.2% (Z)-β-farnesene
- 0.2% cumin alcohol
- 0.1% α-terpinene
- 0.1% terpinen-4-ol
- 0.1% isocaryophyllene
- 0.1% p-isopropylphenol
- 0.1% α-terpineol
- 0.1% trans-α-bergamotene
- 0.1% terpinolene
- 0.1% bornyl acetate
- 0.1% cis-sabinene hydrate
- trace linalool
- trace thymol
- trace camphene
- trace δ-3-carene
- trace trans-sabinene hydrate
- 96.2% total
Adulterations and substitutes
Cumin essential oil is sometimes adulterated with synthetic cuminaldehyde which is difficult to detect.
- Erect to suberect, annual herb, 20-50(-80) cm tall, with thin taproot; all green parts glabrous but usually covered with a bloom. Stem subterete, up to 3 mm in diameter, finely sulcate, branching at all heights.
- Leaves alternate, compound, blue-green; petiole subterete, 2-25 mm long, finely sulcate, sheathing at base with scarious margins, upper leaves usually only with sheathing part; blade consisting of 3 slender, filiform leaflets, each leaflet often forked 2-3 times into filiform lobes up to 7 cm long.
- Inflorescence a compound umbel, up to 3.5 cm in diameter; peduncle subterete, up to 7 cm long, finely sulcate; bracts often as many as primary rays, sheathing at base, linear, often up to 3-forked into lobes 2-35 mm long; primary rays 2-10 per umbel, terete, unequal in length, up to 18 mm long, finely sulcate; bracteoles 3-5 per umbellet, linear, up to 25 mm long, sheathing at base, sometimes 2-3-forked; secondary rays 3-8 per umbellet, up to 6 mm long.
- Flowers bisexual, regular, protandrous; sepals 5, narrowly triangular, unequal in length, up to 2.5 mm long; petals 5, usually all equal, oblong, up to 1.5 mm × 1 mm, whitish at base, pinkish to reddish at top, apex strongly inflexed and narrow; stamens 5 with filiform filaments 1.5 mm long; pistil with ribbed ovary, 2 styles on a conical, persistent stylopodium, stigma semiglobose.
- Fruit an ovoid-oblongoid, erect or slightly curved schizocarp, 3.5-6.5 mm × 1-2 mm × 0.8-1.5 mm, crowned by the persistent, sharp stylopodia and sepal bases, yellow-brown; primary ribs 8, secondary ribs prominent and alternating with and wider than primary ones, whitish setose but bristles breaking off easily; at slight pressure the fruit splits into 2 mericarps; mericarp strongly concave ventrally, convex dorsally, usually bearing one oil duct (vitta) below each secondary rib and two vittae on the commissural ventral side.
- Seed with testa adnate to the fruit wall, endosperm grey, fatty.
- Seedling with epigeal germination.
Growth and development
Cumin takes 2-4 weeks to germinate. Flowering starts about 1.5-2.5 months after sowing and the fruits can be harvested about 1 month after flowering. Although the flowers of cumin are protandrous and cross-fertilization is the rule, self-pollination may sometimes be as high as 70%. The crop cycle is 3-4 months.
Other botanical information
Cumin plants can be rather variable in numbers of primary and secondary rays in the inflorescence, in the degree of coarseness of the fruits (from glabrous to densely setose), in length of the bracts and bracteoles and in colour of the flowers and fruits. Several botanical forms have been described, but these distinctions are without much practical value as the characters are not constant. In the main areas of cultivation there are many cultivars and selections, differing in yield, fruit colour, flavour and essential-oil content. A popular cultivar from Pakistan and Iran is "Black” (with small, dark, rather sweet fruits).
In local languages, cumin, both as a crop and a product, is often confused with caraway (Carum carvi L.). Caraway plants are larger with much larger leaves and umbels, with fruits more curved than those of cumin. And, most important, the taste is very different.
Cumin requires a season of 3-4 months of rather cool and dry weather with full sunlight, as can be found in semi-arid areas with a moderate winter or at higher altitudes in the tropics (up to 2200 m). The temperature range is 9-24 °C and frost is not tolerated. Cumin is a short-day plant. Rich well-drained medium to heavy loams with pH of 6.8-8.3 are optimal.
Propagation and planting
Cumin is grown from seed, either broadcast on carefully prepared beds (irrigated crop) or in rows (rainfed crop), and sowing rate is about 20 kg/ha. Final plant distance is about 15 cm × 15 cm. In seasonal climates cumin is grown in the dry season with additional irrigation. In India 20-50 t farmyard manure is applied per ha before cumin is sown.
Attempts to propagate cumin by tissue culture have so far failed: rooted calli do not produce shoots and excised regenerated shoots cannot be induced to form roots.
Regular weeding of cumin is very important, e.g in India about 2-3 weedings are carried out during the first months. It is recommended to apply 100 kg NPK (5:8:6) per ha at sowing time and 30 kg N/ha as top dressing. In India 4-5 irrigations are given at intervals of 2-3 weeks. In Ethiopia Plantago psyllium L. (Plantaginaceae) is a troublesome weed as it closely resembles cumin at first glance (but it has opposite leaves and the inflorescence is not an umbel).
Diseases and pests
In India young cumin plants can be attacked by Fusarium wilt, especially on light soils. Powdery mildew (Erysiphe polygoni) and Alternaria blight (A. burnsii) can cause losses as well. Crop rotation is important to reduce disease problems.
The major pests are aphids (Myzus persicae), a leaf-eating caterpillar (Prodina sp.), fruit-eating larvae of a chalcid fly (Systole albipennis) and the cigarette beetle (Lasioderma serricorne).
Cumin is ready for harvest as soon as it begins to wither and the fruits turn yellow. Plants are preferably uprooted when wet with dew and stacked carefully to dry in the sun for 2-4 days. Threshing is done with sticks or by trampling with cattle on a threshing floor. In large-scale production the harvest is mechanized.
Under normal circumstances in India the average yield of dry cumin fruits is about 100 kg/ha. Under optimum conditions with additional irrigation and application of fertilizer, yields up to 1.2 t/ha are possible.
Handling after harvest
The harvested fruits of cumin are ready for use or sale after they have been cleaned of foreign matter. The fruits keep well for a long period if stored dry. On local markets cumin fruits are often sold in mixtures with other umbelliferous fruits ("spice seeds"), e.g. in Ethiopia with fennel and dill, in Indonesia with coriander. For essential-oil distillation it is recommended to use freshly harvested fruits.
Genetic resources and breeding
Germplasm collections of cumin are available in India. In India breeding programmes of cumin have resulted in cultivars and selections with considerably higher yields (e.g. "RS-1", "S 404", "MC 43", "NP 1", "NP 26" and "NP 49").
Cumin will remain an important spice on the world market and annual demand is expected to continue to increase slightly. The feasibility of large-scale cultivation of cumin in South-East Asia is limited because it is a short-day, dry-weather, cool-season crop.
- Boelens, M.H., 1991. Spices and condiments 2. In: Maarse, H. (Editor): Volatile compounds in foods and beverages. Marcel Dekker, New York, United States. pp. 461-462.
- Husain, A., Virmani, O.P., Sharma, A., Kumar, A. & Misra, L.N., 1988. Major essential-oil-bearing plants of India. Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Lucknow, India. pp. 77-80.
- Husain, A., 1994. Essential oil plants and their cultivation. Central Institute of Medicinal and Aromatic Plants, Lucknow, India. pp. 231-234.
- Jansen, P.C.M., 1981. Spices, condiments and medicinal plants in Ethiopia, their taxonomy and agricultural significance. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation (Pudoc), Wageningen, the Netherlands. pp. 67-76.
- Jha, T.B., Ray, S.C. & Mitra, G.C., 1982. A brief review of in vitro studies on umbelliferous spice plants. In: Rao, A.N. (Editor): Tissue culture of economically important plants. Proceedings of the International Symposium, held at the Botany Department, National University of Singapore, 28-30 April 1981. pp. 94-97.
- Small, E., 1997. Culinary herbs. National Research Council of Canada, NRC Research Press, Ottawa, Canada. pp. 237-240.
Sources of illustrations
Jansen, P.C.M., 1981. Spices, condiments and medicinal plants in Ethiopia, their taxonomy and agricultural significance. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation (Pudoc), Wageningen, the Netherlands. Fig. 7, p. 69. Redrawn and adapted by P. Verheij-Hayes.
- P.C.M. Jansen