Cumin, the “superfood” of the Middle East

This article is also available in: Italiano

Probably the spice that most reminiscent of India and the Middle East; cumin has an amazing history and that has its origins even before history

From the Levant to Egypt

Cumin finds its origins in the Levant, in the territory which under the Arabs took the name of Bilad ash-Shams and which still today represents the Middle East properly so called “. The first finds ever were found in the Iraqi countryside, specifically at Tell ed-Derr, a mound which is located about 70 km from Baghdad and in which remains of the plant dating back to 2000 BC have been found.


Thanks to the great popularity that reached it, in a very short time it began to transport it all over the ancient world, transforming it into one of the first spices ever to be traded in the world. It will be the arrival in Egypt, however, to represent the first qualitative leap of the spice that, since then, will literally invade the whole Mediterranean. In fact, the Egyptians considered it, as well as a good food, also a fundamental component for the mummification of the great funeral equipment, allowing it for the first time to bind to the medical world.


Thanks to the inhabitants of the Nile, various medical properties of cumin were discovered which, until the Middle Ages, made it the most widespread and popular species of the entire world cuisine. The latter is in fact particularly rich in iron, an essential element for any good diet and essential for different moments of life including growth and menstruation, moments in which you risk having less.

In addition, its digestive properties have been known since ancient times, so much so that one of the most popular remedies of Indians for this type of problem is a decoction of cumin. Some studies have also highlighted potential anti-carcinogenic properties, but it has only recently begun to study in depth this spice, which almost disappeared in Europe since the Middle Ages.

Conquering the world

With the fall of the Roman Empire and its very strong link with Africa and the East, many of the typical dishes of those places were abandoned by the Europeans, surviving only as “magic ingredients“. Among these, cumin must certainly be mentioned, which, in countries like Italy, became a remedy for the success of the marriage, but disappeared from most of the dishes and courses. The only exception will be the Iberian Peninsula and Malta where, the arrival of the Arabs, allowed its rapid spread, becoming so loved in Spain and Portugal, to be brought even to the Americas where it is still widespread today.

Turning to the East, we can observe a diametrically opposite situation, with cumin that will prevail in almost every cuisine of Asia and Africa, especially in India. Right here, it became one of the most widely used foods, so much so that it found traces in most of the typical local courses; it is no coincidence that, together with China, it is the largest producer in the world and the first consumer.

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