Cumin is a small annual herbaceous plant
(Cuminum cyminum) that is a member of the
parsley family (Umbelliferae). It is a native of the
Eastern Mediterranean countries and Upper Egypt,
but is now cultivated in Morocco, Iran, Turkey,
India, China and the Americas. The seeds of the
plant are used to add flavour to spicy dishes. They
are also used as an appetite stimulant and to ease
several stomach disorders.
This brief outlines the important steps that should
be taken pre-harvest and post-harvest to ensure
that the dried cumin is of top quality for the
Figure 1: Cumin seed.
Photo Practical Action / Neil Noble
Types of cumin
There are two main types of cumin:
White cumin seeds which are the most common type.
Black cumin seeds that are popular in Iran. The seeds of black cumin are smaller and
have a sweeter aroma than the white seeds. They are sometimes confused with nigella,
another seed that is used in Indian cookery.
They both come from the Umbelliferae family of plants.
Cumin is an annual herb that grows best in sunny climates with some rainfall (over 2000mm a
year). It can grow at elevations up to 1000m above sea level. The plants grow to about 25cm in
height. They should be planted at intervals of about 0.75m. The small white or pink flowers
grow in clusters on short stems, looking like small umbrellas.
The seeds are harvested about 4 months after planting when the plant begins to wither and the
seeds change from dark green to a brown-yellow colour. The seed is small and boat shaped with
nine ridges along the length. The seeds are harvested by removing the whole plant from the
The plants are dried in the sun or in the partial sun
Threshing and winnowing
The cumin seeds are beaten out by threshing the dried plants with sticks. The seeds are then
further dried to 10% moisture content, either by placing on mats or trays in the sun or by using
a drier if the conditions are too humid. The dried seeds are winnowed using a traditional
winnowing basket to remove the dirt, dust, leaves and twigs.
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