Carom seeds (also known as ajwain) are believed to have originated in the Seychelles, Asia Minor or in Persia. Beyond the three possible locations of the spice’s origin, there is little known or speculated about its history. It is believed that it grew wild in ancient Egypt and was a common medicine there. One of its first uses when it arrived in the subcontinent, was in Ayurvedic medicine. It is also an occasional ingredient in traditional Chinese medicine.
While this spice is mainly used in India, it is also a popular seasoning in the Middle East and in North Africa. The seeds are the most widely utilized part of the plant, but the leaves are sometimes included in marinades. It should be noted that the parts of the plant referred to as the seeds are not actually seeds; they are the dried fruit.
Flavor profile of carom seeds
When raw, carom seeds have a very pungent aroma that is very similar to thyme. Drying them makes the flavor milder but the spice retains a powerful bite that can numb the tongue. Terms used to describe the flavor include “spicy “and “sweet.” Experts compare its flavor to that of oregano and cumin but with a distinctive assertiveness.
Health benefits of carom seeds
- It is an antiseptic: As a powerful germicide, thymol can be used in mouthwashes and other dental products. Its antiseptic properties allow it to fight tooth decay and gum disease while also mitigating bad breath.
- It is an expectorant: Thymol can help to break down mucus, which can clear the airways of people with excessive fluid in their lungs.
Carom seeds can be used to treat various conditions including:
- Flatulence: Carom seeds are said to control the effects of a diet that includes a significant amount of legumes.
- Arthritis: In India, the seeds are ground and used to make poultices for treating arthritis.
- Respiratory ailments: Due to its expectorant effects, thymol is effective for breaking down mucus and clearing airways.
- Digestive problems: Carom seeds can relieve digestive problems both as a spice in a dish or as a tea. It is infused into water to make a beverage that is consumed before or after a meal to help with digestion.
- Skin conditions: You can apply the oil from carom seeds topically to treat psoriasis. You can also use the seeds to treat acne by first macerating them in vinegar and then applying the vinegar as an astringent.
Common uses of carom seeds
The traditional use of carom seeds is in dishes that are rich in both starch and fat, an example being fried potatoes. Some Indian cooks use carom seeds to replace other spices like cardamom and fenugreek in masala blends. It can be used in vegetable dishes, though it should be used lightly due to it its pungency. The most common technique is to combine it with other spices, which you fry before adding the vegetables to the oil.
Because of its antimicrobial properties, it is an effective preservative for canned chutneys and pickles.