Flavorful yet sharply pungent, ajwain seeds are one of the traditional spices commonly featuring in Indian and Middle-Eastern cuisine. Botanically, they are the spicy seeds belonging to the family of Apiaceae (Umbelliferae), in the genus; Trachyspermum. Scientific name: Trachyspermum copticum.
The Umbellifers are small flowering shrubs (same as the members of carrot or parsley family) which also include a broad category of herbs and spice plants such as parsley, dill, fennel, aniseed, and caraway. Some of the common names for ajwain seeds are ajowan seeds, carom seeds, etc.
|Ajowan or carom seeds. Note for ovoid, light brown color seeds.|
The Trachyspermum copticum (ajwain) is thought to have originated in the Asia minor or Persia regions, from where it spread to the Indian subcontinent. The plant is a small, cool season annual herb which grows up to two to three feet in height. It features tiny white-petaled flowers in umbels that eventually develop into small, oval-shaped seeds. The crop is ready for harvesting by the end of winter or early spring.
Ajwain seeds are olive green to brown in color, have similarity in appearance to cumin or caraway seeds, marked with vertical stripes on their outer surface. However, they can be easily distinguished from caraway and cumin by the elliptical shape and tiny size. Their flavor closely resembles that of thyme since they too comprise essential oil, thymol.
Ajwain seeds contain health benefiting essential oils such as thymol, a monopterone derivative class of chemical compound which gives aromatic fragrances to seeds. Besides, they also compose of small amounts of other phytochemicals such as pinene, cymene, limonene, and terpinene.
The active principles in the ajwain may help increase the digestive function of the intestinal tract through facilitating the release of gut juices (gastro-intestinal secretions).
Thymol, the essential oil obtained from ajwain has local anesthetic, antibacterial, and antifungal properties.
Likewise in caraway, ajowan seeds too are rich source of fiber, minerals, vitamins, and anti-oxidants.
Ajwain is readily available in the spice stores specializing in Indian or Middle-Eastern spice ingredients. In general, whole ajwain seeds displayed for sale alongside with other spices such as dill, cumin, coriander, caraway, etc. Buy fresh, wholesome, compact seeds emanating pleasant thyme-like flavor when rubbed between fingers.
Once at home, store the seeds in an airtight container and place in a cool dark place away from sunlight and humidity. Ajowan seeds should be used as early as possible since they lose flavor rather quickly, largely because of evaporation of essential oils.
Ajwain seeds have long been found use in traditional Ayurvedic and Unani medicines as a cure for various ailments. Extraction obtained from this spice is sometimes found use as carminative in treating flatulence and indigestion.
Thymol's germicide and antiseptic properties can be employed in the preparation of cold and cough remedies. In India, ajwain seeds decoction often used to ease asthma.
Ajwain seeds mainly feature in savory Indian, Pakistani, and Middle-Eastern cooking. In general, the seeds are ground just before preparing dishes and added to the recipes in the final stages to keep fragrance and flavor of the food intact. Prolonged cooking may result in evaporation of its essential oils.
In Punjab province of India and Pakistan, the spice seeds notably added to make bread, ajwain parantha.
Some Indian vegetarian bean/lentil and chicken/fish curries contain this spice, and in the Middle East, it is used to flavor meat and rice dishes.
Ajowan seeds used generously as a condiment in snacks, savory biscuits, cookies, to flavor drinks, soups, sauces in India.
Additionally, consumption of dishes prepared using this spice may be avoided in individuals with liver diseases, ulcerative colitis, and diverticulitis conditions. (Medical disclaimer).
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