Flavorful yet strongly pungent, ajwain seeds are one of the popular 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 wide 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 that are ready to be harvested 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 distiguished from caraway and cumin by thier elliptical shape and tiny size. Their flavor closely resembles to that of thyme since they 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. In addition, they also compose of small amounts of other phyto-chemicals 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 release of gut juices (gastro-intestinal secretions).
Thymol, the essential oil obtained from ajwain has local anaesthetic, anti-bacterial and antifungal properties.
Likewise in caraway, ajowan seeds are rich in fiber, minerals, vitamins, and anti-oxidants.
Ajwain is readily available in the spice stores specializing in Indian or Middle-Eastern pice 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 that give rich thyme like flavor when rubbed between fingers.
Once at home, store the seeds inside an airtight container and place in cool dark place away from sunlight and humidity. Generally, 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 used in traditional ayurvedic and unani medicines for various ailments. Extraction obtained from this spice is sometimes used as carminative in treating flatulence and indigestion.
Thymol's germicide and antiseptic properties can be employed in the preparation of cough remedies. In India, carom seeds decoction often used to ease asthma.
Ajwain seeds mainly feature in savory Indian, Pakistani, and Middle-Eastern cooking. In order to keep fragrance and flavor intact, the seeds are generally ground just before preparing dishes and added to the recipes at the final stages. This is done so because, prolonged cooking may result in evaporation of its essential oils.
In Punjab province of India and Pakistan, the spice seeds particularly added to make bread known as ajwain paratha.
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, spicy biscuits, cookies, to flavor drinks, soups, sauces in India.
Since ajwain seeds induce gut secretions, they may exacerbate existing stomach ulcer/ulcer bleeding conditions. Additionally, recipes prepared using this spice may be avoided in individuals with liver diseases, ulcerative colitis, and diverticulitis conditions. (Medical disclaimer).
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