Caraway Seeds: An Old World Favorite

Caraway seeds come from the caraway plant, which grows in parts of Asia as well as in Europe and North Africa. The caraway plant is a relative of the carrot. The spice was well known in ancient Egypt and ancient Rome and many food historians believe that the use of Caraway seeds began with the ancient Arabs. There is documented use of the seeds as a treatment for illnesses in 1500 BC and Dioscorides mentioned them as a digestive aid.

The cultivation of caraway has taken place throughout Europe since the Middle Ages. The seeds were brought to England by the Romans and have remained in use there ever since. In Elizabethan times, caraway seeds were still popular enough to have been mentioned by Shakespeare in his play, Henry IV. During this period, they were used mainly to cleanse the palate and freshen the breath.

Today, caraway seeds are known mainly for their role in German cooking where they are used to flavor everything from bread to meat.

Flavor profile of caraway seeds

Caraway seeds are aromatic and have a strong flavor reminiscent of aniseed that is accompanied by mild earthy and nutty notes. They are such a potent spice that most recipes call only for a small amount. Caraway does not pair well with all spices but seems to shine mainly with other herbs and spices in its family such as dill, coriander, and cumin.

Benefits of caraway seeds

Caraway seeds were widely used throughout the ancient world for their medicinal benefits. They provide a range of beneficial compounds such as:

  • Essential oils: Limonene, pinen, and carvone are among the essential oils in caraway seeds and enable it to improve digestion and provide it with antioxidant properties.
  • Minerals: Caraway seeds are rich in iron, calcium, and potassium. These minerals are important for red blood cell production, bone health and for the regulation of blood pressure.
  • Dietary fiber: Dietary fiber helps to prevent constipation and can help with the prevention of heart disease and diabetes as well. You can get 100 percent of your daily recommended fiber intake from just 100 grams of caraway seeds.
  • Vitamins: Caraway seeds contain many important vitamins such as vitamins A, E, and C along with multiple B-complex vitamins. The benefits of B-complex vitamins range from ensuring that your body’s immune system functioning properly to preventing kidney disease. Vitamin A is important for ensuring normal vision and helps to prevent heart disease as well as different dementias and Parkinson’s disease. Vitamin C helps to protect cells and can also help to keep bones and teeth healthy.

Common uses for caraway seeds

Caraway seeds are most commonly used for baked goods like rye bread, scones, and biscuits. They are also often used as a substitute for poppy seeds in many applications. In addition, caraway seeds are an important flavoring for certain cheeses like the Danish havarti and the Swiss tilsit as well as for salad dressings. The flavor of caraway seeds is versatile enough to work in liqueurs such as aquavit and schnapps.

In Indian cuisine, caraway seeds are used in curries and in dal. In North African countries like Morocco and Algeria, it is used to flavor roasted lamb.