Crunchy little seeds, that pop when you chew them and taste like toasted onion, nigella sativa are an exotic addition to my morning breakfast.
They are also known as black seeds, black cumin, and even roman coriander, although according to the plant specification, coriander, fennel, and cumin are in a different family from Nigella Sativa (very confusing, indeed). Apparently, black cumin has been recognized for its medicinal qualities for centuries upon centuries, especially in the area known as the Fertile Crescent. Egyptian pharaohs were buried with nigella sativa seeds and archeologists have found remnants of black cumin seed mixed with honey, propolis, and beeswax in a “pilgrim” flask while excavating, Boyali Hoyuk, a site dating back to 1650 BC. Black seed is also found referenced in biblical text, suggesting that is a curative for a wide variety of ailments.
From a culinary perspective, black cumin is really interesting. It tastes nothing like cumin or fennel or any of the other names that has been given. It is distinctly its own flavor experience. It features prominently in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine, sprinkled on flatbreads, sautéed into curries and added to Tagines. I sprinkled it on my breakfast eggs and avocado and love the subtle flavor nuances...although, it seems valuable to note, that a little bit goes a long way, even though the flavor is subtle.
From a health perspective, the amount of research conducted on nigella sativa is ridiculously amazing. Studies are demonstrating that it is antibacterial, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and the list goes on and on. It helps lower cholesterol and balance blood sugar, as well as, One of its more recently researched claims to fame has been as a remedy for high histamine response. In fact, studies have been so successful that Nestle attempted to patent the chemical properties in black seed and make it into a product to combat food allergies. Thankfully, they were not granted the patent so you are free to extract thymoquinone from the nigella seed without the worry of jail time. (:
This is good, because apparently thymoquinone is quite the phytonutrient. In studies it has demonstrated pretty significant antioxidant qualities, protecting the heart, liver, and kidneys from damage due to oxidative stress. It has also demonstrated tumor-inhibiting and anti-cancer qualities. Apparently, it forces the mutated cells to blow themselves up while strengthening the surrounding healthy cells. Pretty cool.
Thymoquinone is not the only beneficial phytonutrient in black cumin; in fact, it has quite a few others that are each showing up as health superstars in research. Needless to say, while the health benefits are amazing, it’s also just a tasty addition to bump up your culinary adventures and stimulate your palate.