In classical European culinary traditions, caraway seeds take center stage as a primary spice in numerous savory dishes. Strongly aromatic, caraway is a member of the parsley or Umbelliferae family; a large family of plants that also includes commonly known herbs and spices such as dill, anise, fennel, and cumin.
The scientific name of caraway is, Carum carvi.
|Caraway (Carum carvi) seeds. Note for slightly curved cumin-like brown seeds.
Caraway grows extensively all over Europe, North Africa, and Asia Minor regions. It is a biennial, herbaceous plant that blooms once every two years. Its creamy flowers appear in the umbels.
The Carum carvi plant grows to about two feet in height and is covered with tiny, feathery leaves. Caraway seeds, similar in appearance to that of cumin, feature a crescent shape, dark brown, with up to five stripes (ribs) that run lengthwise on their surface.
Caraway is harvested in the early morning hours to avoid spilling and wastage of its seeds in the field. They are then stacked in bundles and left to dry under sunlight for a few days. The seeds are extracted by means of threshing, either manually or employing machines.
In addition to their utility as remedial items in traditional medicines, caraway seeds have their own food value. They compose many health-benefiting nutrients, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.
Caraway seeds are a rich source of dietary fiber. 100 g seeds provide 38 g of fiber; about 100% of the daily recommended intake (DRI) of fiber. Dietary fiber increases the bulk of the food and helps prevent constipation problems by speeding up its movement through the gut.
Dietary fiber eliminates toxins in the food and thereby, helps protect the colon mucosa from cancers. Further, dietary fibers bind to bile salts (produced from cholesterol) and decrease their re-absorption in the colon, thus helping in reducing serum LDL-cholesterol levels.
Caraway contains numerous health-benefiting essential oils. Some of the volatile compounds in them are carvone, limonene, carveol, pinene, cumuninic aldehyde, furfural, and thujone. These active principles in the caraway seeds have been known to have antioxidant, digestive, carminative, and anti-flatulent properties.
Flavonoid antioxidants such as lutein, carotene, cryptoxanthin, and zeaxanthin are present in abundance in them. These compounds indeed play an important role as powerful antioxidants by removing harmful free radicals from the body and thus protect from cancers, infection, aging, and degenerative neurological diseases.
Caraway spice is an excellent source of minerals like iron, copper, calcium, potassium, manganese, selenium, zinc and magnesium. Copper is required for the production of red blood cells. Iron is essential for red blood cell synthesis. Zinc is a co-factor in many enzymes that regulate growth and development, digestion, and nucleic acid synthesis. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the powerful antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
Caraway seeds indeed are the storehouse for many vital vitamins. Vitamin A, vitamin E, vitamin C as well as many B-complex vitamins like thiamin, pyridoxine, riboflavin, and niacin are particularly concentrated in them.
|Percent of RDA
Caraway seeds can be available year-round in the markets either in the form of seeds or milled-powder forms. In the store, buy whole caraway seeds instead of their powder since oftentimes they may be adulterated with other spicy powders.
Once at home, store in a cool, dry, dark place inside air-sealed containers for many months, and can be milled using a hand-mill whenever required. Ground and powdered caraway should be stored in the refrigerator in airtight containers and should be utilized as early as possible since it lose its flavor rather quickly.
Caraway water is often used as a remedy for flatulence and indigestion in traditional medicines, especially used to relieve colicky pain.
It is also used in pharmaceuticals as a flavoring agent in mouthwash and gargle preparations.
Caraway extraction is used as a rubefacient (to soothe muscle sores), clear the cold, as a remedy for bronchitis and irritable bowel syndrome in many traditional medicines. (Medical disclaimer).
|Marinated cheese with onion and caraway seeds.
Photo courtesy: wordridden
Caraway seeds feature a warm, sweet, and slightly peppery aroma when squeezed between index and thumb fingers. They are used extensively in European and Mediterranean cooking.
To keep their fragrance and flavor intact; gently toast caraway seeds under low flame and ground just before using them in a recipe.
Here are some serving tips:
Caraway seed is employed widely as a savory spice. It is principally added in cooking as a condiment and flavoring base.
It features in savory dishes, including cabbage soups, sauerkraut, and salads.
Caraway gives a pleasant aroma to bread, cakes, biscuits, and cheese. In France, the seeds are offered in a saucer to sprinkle over Munster cheese before eating.
Cheddar cheese with caraway seeds is a popular spice-mixed, hard cheese in the UK. The addition of caraway seeds gives this cheddar cheese a savory flavor.
Also, along with other spicy items, they are being used to season sausage and other meat preparations. In Central Europe (Poland), caraway-seasoned sausages (Kielbasa Kminkowa) are a favorite dish.
Caraway, just as other fellow spices, should be used in small amounts. Too many spices in the food can cause gastrointestinal irritation and stomach ulcers.(Medical Disclaimer).
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