Cumin: Benefits, Uses & Side Effects

by Meenakshi Nagdeve last updated - Medically reviewed by Vanessa Voltolina (MS, RD)

We know and use cumin predominantly in two forms – whole dried seeds or as ground powder. In both these forms, cumin is used as a staple spice ingredient in different cuisines like Indian, African, and Mexican to name a few. It is known for its distinct flavor. It lends the food an earthy, and spicy taste with a hint of bitterness, additionally, releasing a warm, pungent, and somewhat citrusy aroma.

Not just that it is also known for its innumerable health benefits. They include its ability to ease digestion-related problems, improve immunity, and treat skin disorders. Cumin seeds may also help reduce the risk of anemia. It is also known to relieve respiratory disorders such as asthma and bronchitis. Let’s look at these health benefits in detail.

What is Cumin?

Cumin is a well-known leafy plant, scientifically known as Cuminucum cyminum and it belongs to the Apiaceae family. Cumin seeds are the fruits of this plant that are extensively used in culinary practices in India and other Asian, African, and Latin American countries. Apart from cumin seeds and its ground powder, cumin essential oil is also used in recipes because of its strong aroma. It has quite a strong flavor and so only a small amount of it is enough to provide them with a powerful punch. Both cumin seeds and the essential oil contain important nutrients that can help keep you healthy.

Nutrition Facts

Spices, cumin seed
Serving Size :
NutrientValue
Water [g]8.06
Energy [kcal]375
Energy [kJ]1567
Protein [g]17.81
Total lipid (fat) [g]22.27
Ash [g]7.62
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]44.24
Fiber, total dietary [g]10.5
Sugars, total including NLEA [g]2.25
Calcium, Ca [mg]931
Iron, Fe [mg]66.36
Magnesium, Mg [mg]366
Phosphorus, P [mg]499
Potassium, K [mg]1788
Sodium, Na [mg]168
Zinc, Zn [mg]4.8
Copper, Cu [mg]0.87
Manganese, Mn [mg]3.33
Selenium, Se [µg]5.2
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid [mg]7.7
Thiamin [mg]0.63
Riboflavin [mg]0.33
Niacin [mg]4.58
Vitamin B-6 [mg]0.44
Folate, total [µg]10
Folate, food [µg]10
Folate, DFE [µg]10
Choline, total [mg]24.7
Vitamin A, RAE [µg]64
Carotene, beta [µg]762
Vitamin A, IU [IU]1270
Lutein + zeaxanthin [µg]448
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol) [mg]3.33
Vitamin K (phylloquinone) [µg]5.4
Fatty acids, total saturated [g]1.54
10:0 [g]0.02
12:0 [g]0.02
14:0 [g]0.02
16:0 [g]1.14
18:0 [g]0.34
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated [g]14.04
16:1 [g]0.21
18:1 [g]13.62
20:1 [g]0.21
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated [g]3.28
18:2 [g]3.1
18:3 [g]0.18
Phytosterols [mg]68
Sources include : USDA

Cumin Seeds Nutrition

Cumin seeds are a good source of iron, manganese, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. Other vitamins present in it include thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A, C, E, K, and vitamin B6. According to the USDA, it contains minerals such as copper, zinc, and potassium. Additionally, it is very low in saturated fats, sodium, and cholesterol.

Health Benefits of Cumin

Let us look at some of the most important benefits of cumin in detail.

Rich in antioxidants

Cumin seeds contain innumerable plant compounds such as flavonoids, alkaloids, phenols, and the like that are known for their potential health benefits. These antioxidants help reduce the damage done on the body by free radicals, which cause oxidative stress that can seriously result in heart blockages, diabetes, and other diseases.

Regulates Digestion

Cumin seeds are beneficial for alleviating digestive problems. It is also a carminative, which means that it relieves you from gas troubles. Cumin seeds contain a rich amount of magnesium, and sodium content, which is known to promote digestion and give relief from stomach aches when taken with hot water.

Cumin seeds and extract are highly effective in improving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) such as cramps, nausea, bloating, gas, and digestive spasms. As stated by researchers at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences in the report published in the Middle East Journal of Digestive Diseases (MEJDD). In a 2013 paper published in the Middle East Journal of Digestive Diseases, the efficacy of cumin extract in treating gastrointestinal disorders like bloating, and other symptoms of IBS, was revealed.

A book titled, Happy Food Happy Mood, authored by Alexandra Slattenschek suggests that the aroma of cumin – which is due to an organic compound known as cumin aldehyde, the primary component present in cumin essential oil is known to trigger the salivary glands in the mouth, which activate the process of digestion. This is followed by thymol, which is again a compound present in cumin. Thymol revitalizes the glands that secrete acids, bile, and enzymes that play a vital role in the complete digestion of food in the stomach and intestines.

Traditionally, it has been used as a potent antidiarrhoeal agent. It helps in giving relief from severe diarrhea.

A close-up view of wooden spoon filled with cumin seeds

Cumin seeds add a zesty flavor to all dishes. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Rich in Iron

Cumin is a good source of iron, a mineral that helps in increasing hemoglobin levels, improving blood flow, and also promoting a healthy menstrual cycle. According to a 2017 research paper published in the Pharmacognosy Journal, cumin contains 66 mg of iron in every 100 grams, which is approximately 5 times the daily requirement of iron for an adult human being.

Iron-rich cumin can be a nutritious addition to the daily diet for those with anemia. It may help relieve the symptoms of anemia such as fatigue, anxiety, and cognitive malfunction.

Boosts Immunity

A 2011 study shows that taking cumin orally can help in strengthening your immune system.

Furthermore, key nutrients in cumin including iron, essential oils, vitamin C, and vitamin A boost our immune system in several ways. Vitamin C is one of the most powerful antioxidants that stimulate the function and activity of white blood cells. It further helps neutralize free radicals that lead to cardiovascular diseases.

Relieves Respiratory Disorders

The presence of caffeine (a stimulating agent), and the richly aromatic essential oils (the disinfectants) make cumin an ideal anti-congestive combination for respiratory disorders such as asthma and bronchitis. It can act as an expectorant, meaning that it loosens up the accumulated phlegm and mucus in the respiratory tracts, and making it easier to eliminate them from the system via sneezing or coughing up and spitting. By eliminating as much mucus and phlegm as possible, it can inhibit the formation of additional material and help heal the initial condition that led to its formation in the first place.

Skin Care

Cumin helps in protecting your skin against fungal and microbial infections due to its disinfectant and antifungal properties. It also aids in reducing signs of premature aging like wrinkles, age spots, and sagging skin. This effect is due to the presence of vitamin E which acts as an antioxidant and combats the free radicals.

Reduces the Risk of Diabetes

Cumin contains flavonoids and other essential nutrients that have shown promising results in managing and reducing the risk of diabetes. A 2015 study published in the Randomized Controlled Journal showed that when a group of overweight women with the initial signs of diabetes was given a concentrated cumin supplement, they showed significant signs of improvement when compared to a placebo.

Cumin also has components that help to fight the long-term effects of diabetes. Through something known as advanced glycation end products, diabetes affects cells in the body. When the blood sugar levels in the body stay high for a long period of time, as they usually tend to be in diabetes, these products are automatically produced in the bloodstream.

These advanced glycation end products have the potential to damage the nerves, eyes, kidneys, and blood vessels, according to a 2014 study published in the Korean Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology. In a test-tube study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, cumin is shown to have components that help to reduce the advanced glycation end products. Thus, routinely including cumin seeds in your diet will help regulate blood sugar levels. It is always advisable to have it along with your recommended dosage of medication as prescribed by the doctor.

Food-borne Illness

The antiviral and antibacterial properties of cumin help fight infections and foodborne illnesses; it also acts as a disinfectant. The components carvacrol and thymol, present in cumin, protect the gut health from any kind of fungal or bacterial infections. As per a 2015 research, cumin releases a component known as megalomicin, when digested, which is said to have anti-bacterial and fungal properties.

Lowers Cholesterol

Cumin has hypolipidemic properties, which helps to control high levels of cholesterol in the body and maintain good heart health. One more study published in 2016 by Iranian researchers suggests that 75 mg of cumin taken twice daily for over 8 weeks helped bring down bad cholesterol levels and body weight.

Another study published in the International Journal of Health Sciences showed that bad cholesterol levels were brought down by 10 percent in patients who consumed cumin extract in their daily diet for nearly 2 months. Cumin powder mixed with yogurt has a positive impact on the good cholesterol levels in the body.

A 2014 study involving 88 women with high body weight, showed that when they took 3 grams of cumin with yogurt twice a day for three months, they had higher levels of good cholesterol than those who had yogurt just like that.

Health benefits of cumin infographic

Cumin can be used in two forms – whole dried seeds or as ground powder. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

People looking for calcium-containing foods to build healthy bones, consider cumin. The calcium in cumin helps in increasing the bone density, thereby delaying the onset of osteoporosis.

Soothes Inflammation

Cumin extracts have been shown to contain anti-inflammatory properties that help in relieving inflammation, which is the root cause of several chronic diseases. A 2015 test-tube study published in the Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal shows the efficacy of cumin extracts in inhibiting inflammation. The plant compounds present in cumin seeds and extracts help inhibit the levels of a dominant inflammation marker called NF-kappaB, as per a study published by a team of Indian researchers. However, more studies are required to corroborate this.

Increases Lactation

As cumin is rich in iron, it is beneficial for lactating mothers or pregnant women, as well as for women who are undergoing menses. Moreover, it is said to help ease and increase the secretion of milk in lactating women due to the presence of thymol.

Cumin has a remarkable amount of calcium, which accounts for a huge percentage of our daily requirement of calcium. Calcium is an important constituent of milk and hence it is very good for lactating mothers.

Improves Cognitive Performance

A daily diet consisting of cumin seeds or extracts can help stimulate and activate your central nervous system and help it to work more effectively. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Pharmacy showed how a daily administration of cumin extracts in older people help sharpen the memory and gain better control over the limbs. Thus, it may prove beneficial for patients with Parkinson’s disease.

Furthermore, it has the ability to help the body manage, and in some cases, even reduce stress. According to a study published in the Pharmaceutical Biology, when a group of rats was given cumin extracts right before a stressful activity, they showed a significantly lower stress response as compared to the time when they were not given the extract.

Reduces Drug Dependence

The compounds present in cumin may assist in the reduction of the addictive behavior and withdrawal symptoms of opioid narcotics. However, more research is needed to determine the generalizability and reach of these findings.

Other Benefits

Cumin is also thought to have beneficial properties in the treatment of renal colic, weak memory, insect bites, and painful stings.

How to Use Cumin?

Given its distinctive flavor and fragrance, cumin as seeds, ground cumin, or cumin oil, is used in various ways, including;

  • Culinary Uses: Cumin is traditionally used as a spice in Indian cooking, either as whole seeds or in powdered form. It is a major component in the preparation of curries, stews, soups, and other food products. Khichdi, an Indian one-pot lentil and rice dish, known for aiding in digestion and weight loss, makes use of cumin seeds as a seasoning. Here is our recipe, Nutritious Khichdi Recipes That Are Easy To Make.
  • Personal Care Product: Derived from cumin seeds, cumin essential oil is used as a scent in cosmetics such as creams, perfumes, and lotions.
  • Flavoring Agent: It is used to add flavor to alcoholic beverages and desserts.
  • Medicinal Uses: Cumin seeds are used to produce medicines that help in treating problems like diarrhea, colic, inflammation, bowel and muscle spasms, and gas.
  • Aphrodisiac: When ground cumin is mixed with honey and pepper, it is considered to function as an aphrodisiac. This concoction is widely popular amongst the Arabians.

Side Effects

Excess intake of cumin may result in severe side effects such as:

  • Hypoglycemia: Cumin may lower blood sugar levels in some, so diabetics should be aware of their intake. Avoid use if undergoing surgery, as it may also affect the blood sugar levels. The typical dose of cumin as an herbal supplement is 300 to 600 milligrams per day. However, it is always best to consult a doctor.
  • Blood clotting: Cumin may slow the blood clotting process, therefore, people with bleeding disorders should avoid intake.
  • Heartburn and liver damage: Excess intake of cumin may cause heartburn, or even kidney or liver damage.
  • Infertility and miscarriage: It suppresses testosterone levels and may reduce fertility in men. Also, it has been known to trigger miscarriage, so it is important to speak with a medical professional before consuming it.
  • Gastrointestinal problems: Cumin plays an instrumental role in reducing the risk of digestion-related problems but too much of it too often could result in nausea, stomach pain, dizziness, and burping. It is, however, advisable to consult a nutritionist to ascertain the exact dosage of the same to avoid any potential side effects.
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About the Author

Meenakshi Nagdeve, Co-Founder, Organic Facts is a health and wellness enthusiast and is responsible for managing it. She has completed the Nutrition And Healthy Living Cornell Certificate Program, Cornell University, US. She holds a Post Graduate Diploma in Management from IIM Bangalore and B. Tech in Metallurgical Engineering and Materials Science from IIT Bombay. Prior to this, she worked for a few years in IT and Financial services. An ardent follower of naturopathy, she believes in healing with foods. In her free time, she loves to travel and taste different types of teas.

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