Nigella sativa L.
Buttercup Family: Ranunculaceae
Common Names: Nigella, Poivrette, Kalonji, Cumin Noire (French), Schwarzkummel (German). Cuminella (Italian). The Indian name ‘Kala Jeera’ means black cumin.
Origin: Indigenous to southern Europe, north Africa and western Asia.
What is black cumin seed?
The small black aromatic and pungent seeds of an annual herb (Nigella sativa) of the buttercup family native to southwest Asia, used as a spice in southern and western Asian cuisines and for medicinal purposes. It’s also called nigella. (Free Dictionary). The seeds are sometimes known as “onion seed” or quatre-espices” meaning four spices.
Please note that black cumin is not related to the true cumin (Cuminum cyminum), which belongs to the carrot family, Umbelliferae and is also used as a spice.
The Flavour of black cumin is aromatic and pungent.
Erect annual herb about 0.4m high. Leaves are finely dissected compound leaves. Flowers attractive, white with distinctive erect styles. Fruit a many seeded capsule.
Cultivation: easily grown from seeds in temperate regions .
Culinary Use of Black Cumin
Black cumin is widely used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine as a condiment and substitute for pepper to flavour spicy dishes.
It’s also sprinkled over cakes and breads especially naan bread.
It’s one of the ingredients in Panch Phoron. Panch means “five” and phoron means “flavour” or “spice”, hence the common translation Bengali Five-Spice. The spice is a mixture of black cumin, real cumin, fennel, Fenugreek and black mustard seeds.
In Russia and Poland seeds of Nigella damascena are sprinkled over cakes and breads. Nigella seeds contain 40% dry weight fixed oil.
The seeds are used sparingly for flavour and aroma only.
Here are photos of black cumin seeds and true cumin seeds