What is cumin?
Cumin is the dried seed of an aromatic plant that has a dusty, vaguely bitter taste and a distinctive smell. Cumin seeds can be used whole, fried in oil to release their aroma; or ground into a powder.
Most cumin seeds are light brown in color, but they are also available in white (similar to the brown in flavor) and black (which has a more peppery taste). Cumin seeds look a lot like caraway seeds.
You can find references to cumin in the Bible, where it was cited as a flavor-enhancer for soup and bread. The Romans used it to preserve meat and broil fish and it was popular in the Middle Ages. Today, cumin seeds are used to spice up Munster cheese, to make Indian and Pakistani curries and to add flavor to Tex-Mex chili. Cumin is also popular in many cuisines of the world, including Middle Eastern, Mexican, Eastern European and Mediterranean.
During the Middle Ages, cumin was believed to keep loved ones (and chickens) from straying; likewise, brides and grooms carried cumin seeds during the wedding ceremony as a happy marriage charm.