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Black Cumin: The Asian Spice

Black seed is said to be a panacea for almost every health problem. In fact, the seeds and the oil obtained from them can help with hay fever, asthma, rheumatism, diabetes, and many other ailments. Black cumin is also a healing and delicious ingredient in the kitchen.

Black cumin and its diverse healing powers

In the western world, black cumin (Nigella sativa) is known in naturopathy primarily for its soothing effect on hay fever. In Asian and Arabic countries, on the other hand, black cumin has been used as a natural remedy for many ailments for thousands of years. The seeds are chewed, for example, for indigestion and worm infestation.

Black cumin oil is obtained from the black cumin seeds by pressing. Black seed oil is just as popular in the Middle East as the seeds themselves. In ancient Egypt, it was also called the “gold of the pharaohs” and was used to treat infections, high blood pressure, and infertility, among other things. The Islamic prophet Mohammed is said to have said: “Black cumin heals every disease except death.”

The difference between black seed, caraway, and cumin

From the name one might think that black cumin is related to caraway and cumin. However, this is not the case: while black cumin (Nigella sativa) belongs to the buttercup family, caraway (Carum carvi) and cumin (Cuminum cyminum) belong to the Umbelliferae. Other representatives of the buttercup family include the buttercup and monkshood.

Caraway, cumin, and black cumin have similar names, but they taste so different: Caraway has a sweet and spicy aroma and is used in sauerkraut or onion tart, for example. Cumin, on the other hand, is very popular in Indian and Arabic cuisine, for example for falafel. It tastes slightly bitter and pungent, but also has a sweet note. Black cumin, on the other hand, is reminiscent of a mixture of aniseed, nutmeg, oregano, and camphor and contains a peppery note. It is common in the kitchens of West Asia and is sprinkled on flatbreads, for example.

Visually, black cumin can easily be confused with black sesame because of its color. On closer inspection, however, black sesame seeds are flat and shiny, while black cumin seeds have three edges and appear matte.

Black cumin – medicinal plant from the garden

Black cumin is mainly grown in West Asia and North Africa (e.g. in Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt) and to a lesser extent around the Mediterranean. It is rarely found in Central Europe, although it can easily be planted in your own garden. The annual plant with its pretty light blue to purple flowers attracts numerous bees and bumblebees. Black cumin is not to be confused with the “damsel in the open” ( Nigella damascena ), which looks very similar to it.

Used for flavoring and medicinal purposes, black cumin seeds grow in pods similar to those found in poppies. Once the pods have turned brown (July to September) they can be cut off and the seeds shaken or tapped out over a container. The seeds are then left to dry in an airy place and stored in a sealable jar.

The ingredients of black cumin

Black cumin contains a variety of health-promoting substances – the seeds alone are said to contain over 100 of them.

The nutritional values, vitamins, and minerals of black cumin

The nutritional values, vitamins, and minerals of black cumin seeds are broken down as follows. Note that the vitamin and mineral content is given per gram and not per 100 g as usual:

Nutritional values (in percent):

  • Carbohydrates: 25 to 40%
  • Fat: 22 to 56%
  • Proteins: 18 to 31%

Vitamins (on average per gram):

  • Vitamin A: No amount specified
  • Vitamin B1: 15mcg
  • Vitamin B3: 65mcg
  • Vitamin B6: 9.5μg
  • Folic acid: 457 μg
  • Vitamin E: Multiple tocotrienols (e.g. 12 mg beta-tocotrienol and 2 mg gamma-tocotrienol in the oil)

Vitamin E is a general term for tocotrienols and tocopherols, within which there are different forms. Black cumin oil is characterized by its high content of tocotrienols. While tocopherols are better absorbed through food, tocotrienols are better absorbed through the skin. Tocotrienols are also considered to be the more powerful antioxidants, while alpha-tocopherol is considered to be more potent overall.

Minerals (on average per gram):

  • Iron: 0.123 μg
  • Copper: 0.026μg
  • Sodium: 0.481mcg
  • Potassium: 5,587 μg
  • Calcium: 2,297 mcg
  • Zinc: 0.05 μg
  • Selenium: No amount specified

The phytochemicals in black cumin

Black cumin seeds contain about 2.5% essential oil. This consists of about 36% ρ-cymene, 11% thymoquinone, 10% α-thujene, and other substances. B. carotenes together. Thymoquinone is one of the most important ingredients in black cumin. It contributes significantly to the positive health effects of the spice, as you will learn more about below.

The fatty acids in black seed oil

Black cumin oil

  • about 57% linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid)
  • about 1% alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid)
  • 22% oleic acid (omega-9 fatty acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid)
  • 14% palmitic acid (saturated fatty acid).

It consists largely of polyunsaturated fatty acids and a moderate proportion of monounsaturated and saturated fatty acids. The ideal ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids is often given as 1:5 or even less. The ratio in black cumin oil is 1:57, so it is not considered optimal. Because the intake of too large amounts of omega-6 fatty acids is suspected of promoting inflammation in the body.

However, despite its excess of omega-6 fatty acids, black seed oil has an anti-inflammatory effect (see next paragraph) – a sign that an oil/fat should not be judged solely on its fatty acid ratio. It should also not be forgotten that omega-6 fatty acids are also essential fatty acids and must therefore be ingested with food because the body cannot produce them itself.

The health effects of black cumin

Hundreds of scientific studies have now been published that have dealt with black cumin in some form. Taken together, all of this research proves exactly what West Asian and North African cultures have known for thousands of years – that black seed is a powerful healing agent. Among other things, it works:

  • antioxidant
  • anti-inflammatory
  • Antibacterial
  • antiparasitic
  • antiviral
  • blood pressure lowering
  • Strengthening the immune system
  • Protective of the cells, especially the lungs, liver, and kidneys
  • anticancer

In clinical studies, black seed has been shown to help with the following ailments:

  • diabetes mellitus
  • Hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol)
  • rheumatism
  • arthrosis
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Vitiligo (white spot disease)
  • asthma
  • Allergic rhinitis (eg, hay fever)
  • cancers
  • Dyspepsia (indigestion, e.g. heartburn, belching)
  • Bacterial and viral infections
  • infertility (in men)
  • withdrawal symptoms

For example, black cumin and black cumin oil help in the long-term treatment of opium addicts, alleviate the symptoms of hay fever, fight infections caused by Helicobacter pylori ( H. pylori ), help in the treatment of type 2 diabetes, alleviate asthma symptoms reduce blood pressure and prevent epileptic seizures. Below we present some promising study results in more detail.

Black seed oil helps with type 2 diabetes

Iranian researchers investigated the effects of black seed oil on type 2 diabetes patients in a double-blind, randomized clinical trial. 25 volunteers took one capsule with 500 mg of black cumin oil twice a day for eight weeks. The control group took a placebo.

After eight weeks, the fasting blood sugar had dropped significantly from an average of 219 mg/dl to an average of 153 mg/dl. In healthy individuals, fasting blood sugar should be between 70 and 100 mg/dl.

The “bad” LDL cholesterol had also dropped significantly: from around 121 to 104 mg/dl (normal values: < 100 mg/dl) and the “good” HDL cholesterol increased from 46 to 52 mg/dl (normal values: > 40 mg/dl). In contrast, there were no significant changes in the placebo group.

Black seed improves allergy symptoms

Because black seed has antihistamine effects, it may reduce symptoms of allergic rhinitides, such as a runny, stuffy, or itchy nose and sneezing. Allergic rhinitis is inflammation of the nasal mucosa caused by an allergy. Allergic rhinitis includes, for example, hay fever and house dust allergy.

In a study, the effectiveness of black cumin oil in the form of nose drops was examined: three times a day, the subjects dripped 15 ml of black cumin oil into both nostrils using a pipette. This led to the following results after 6 weeks:

  • All 10 people who reported only having mild symptoms (e.g. runny nose, sneezing) were subsequently symptom-free.
  • Of 16 people with moderate symptoms (e.g. negatively affected sleep, nasal congestion), around 70% were symptom-free and 25% felt improvements.
  • Of the 12 people with severe symptoms (e.g. nasal congestion for more than 8 hours, sneezing attacks, disturbed sleep), around 60% were symptom-free and 25% also felt an improvement.
  • There were no significant changes in the control group.

But even if it is ingested, black cumin oil alleviates the symptoms: In the case of hay fever, it is recommended to take one tablespoon of black cumin oil daily before or after eating. In capsule form, three capsules of 500 mg per day are usually recommended. Also, 2 g of black cumin seeds can be taken daily. Experience has shown that it should always be taken one to two months before the pollen season begins.

Black cumin oil for histamine intolerance

Due to the antihistamine effect, regular intake of black cumin oil can also reduce the symptoms of histamine intolerance. Orthomolecular physicians recommend z. E.g. three 500 mg black cumin oil capsules per day – two for breakfast and one again for dinner. There do not seem to have been any studies on taking it in the case of histamine intolerance.

Black cumin oil for rheumatism

Egyptian researchers studied the effects of black seed oil on 40 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (commonly known as rheumatism). Subjects took two placebo capsules daily for the first month. For the following month, they received two capsules a day, each containing 500 mg of black cumin oil. After this month, the number of swollen joints and morning joint stiffness had decreased significantly compared to the previous month.

Black seed oil for gingivitis

Black seed oil is often recommended for oil pulling because of its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. With oil pulling, a teaspoon of oil is moved back and forth in the mouth for 10 to 20 minutes and sucked through the spaces between the teeth. The oil is then spat out. The Ayurvedic ritual is becoming increasingly popular.

A 2019 study looked at how black seed oil affects oral health. 24 volunteers with moderate to severe gingivitis (periodontitis) took part in the study. Half of their teeth were treated with an alcoholic black cumin extract for three consecutive days. As a result, gingivitis was significantly reduced and plaque formation also decreased.

Black cumin and cancer

The substance thymoquinone contained in black cumin has shown a strong anti-cancer effect in various types of cancer – including colon, liver, breast, cervical, lung, and pancreatic cancer. This emerges from a review in which Italian and Spanish researchers compiled the current state of research.

Thymoquinone develops its anti-cancer effect in different ways: in colon cancer, for example, thymoquinone led to a reduction in tumor volume. In liver cancer, it inhibited the growth of cancer cells, while in pancreatic cancer, it reduced the viability of cancer cells. These results come from cell and animal models in which black cumin extract, black cumin oil, or pure thymoquinone were used in very different doses.

There have only been a few clinical studies to date. In children with leukemia, a dose of 40 mg of pure and isolated thymoquinone per kilogram of body weight twice daily for six months, together with other anti-cancer drugs, resulting in a remission rate of 92 percent. Remission means that the symptoms subsided without a cure being achieved. Researchers suspect that black cumin could be used in combination with other cancer therapies such as chemotherapy in the future, as it provides some protection against their side effects and can increase their effectiveness.

Buy black cumin – you should pay attention to that

Black cumin seeds are available whole or as a powder in spice shops, online shops, and also in supermarkets. Black seed is sometimes sold under the name Kalonji – that’s what it’s called in parts of India. Black cumin oil, black cumin oil capsules, and black cumin oil creams and ointments are also available. These products are sold in pharmacies, drugstores, and online shops.

Black cumin oil – important quality features

When buying black cumin oil, it is important to pay attention to the quality: Only cold-pressed organic black cumin oil should end up in the shopping basket. With cold pressing, the ingredients of the black cumin are preserved as best as possible – higher temperatures, on the other hand, damage them. Another quality feature is the first pressing. The seeds are pressed only once. With the second pressing, on the other hand, the pomace is pressed out again, which increases the yield but reduces the quality of the oil.

You can also buy filtered or unfiltered black cumin oil. The filtering also removes some of the health-promoting substances (turbid and suspended matter). However, they are still present in unfiltered oil. As a result, the unfiltered oil tastes more intense has a darker color, and is thicker. Before use, the unfiltered oil should be shaken well.

Sprouted black cumin seed oil is also available. This should be particularly digestible and also healthier since the production of vital substances is boosted when the seeds germinate. You get the black cumin oil from germinated seeds z. B. in the Myfairtrade shop.

Black cumin oil capsules

Black cumin oil capsules make it easier for people who cannot get used to the intense aroma of black cumin oil to take it. Black cumin oil has a very spicy taste – the capsules, on the other hand, only taste very subtly of black cumin.

First of all, it is important to pay attention to the ingredients of the capsules: Most of the time, each capsule contains 500 mg of black cumin oil. The black cumin used should come from organic cultivation, otherwise, it could contain chemical residues. In addition, no dyes or release agents should be added to the capsules. Many suppliers already do without these additives in their products. Those who live vegan also rely on capsules without gelatine.

Many capsules also contain vitamin E. Since this is an antioxidant, it is intended as a natural preservative to protect the unsaturated fatty acids in the oil from oxidative processes.

Taking black seed oil – dosage, frequency, and timing

The dosage of black cumin oil depends on the respective complaints. It is therefore difficult to derive a general dosage. For example, to strengthen the immune system, it is recommended to take 1 teaspoon of oil daily before breakfast. As an accompanying measure for health problems, however, it is recommended to take 1 to 3 teaspoons spread over the day. Three teaspoons equals about one tablespoon of oil.

To soften the intense taste, the oil can be mixed with a little honey or added to freshly squeezed juice. Sensitive people may feel nauseous after taking it on an empty stomach. In this case, it is advisable to take the oil only after breakfast.

The recommended intake for black cumin oil capsules differs depending on the manufacturer. It is usually recommended to take one 500 mg capsule three times a day before or after a meal (depending on tolerability). Some manufacturers write that up to six capsules per day can be taken in the short term, for example in the case of severe hay fever symptoms. In this case, take two capsules with meals. The capsules are taken with a glass of water.

Black cumin oil for skin care

Experience has shown that taking black cumin oil in the above doses can also help with neurodermatitis and psoriasis. Black cumin oil creams and ointments are now also available in pharmacies, drugstores, and online shops, which are applied to the affected areas several times a day, regardless of whether they are taken internally.

The oil can also be dabbed directly onto the skin. Its antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties benefit the skin and may also help with pimples and acne. Please note, however, that the essential oils could cause skin irritation. Therefore, test how your skin reacts on a small area before you apply the oil over a large area.

Black cumin oil during pregnancy and lactation

Since the essential oils contained in black cumin oil could stimulate labor, women are generally advised not to take black cumin oil during pregnancy. In addition, it is not known whether the ingredients of the essential oil can pass into breast milk, which is why it is not recommended to take it while breastfeeding. However, only a few grams of black cumin seeds are used for seasoning – this is not a problem.

Side Effects of Black Seed Oil

Taking black seed oil can cause nausea and itching. Anyone who is sensitive to it should only consume black cumin oil after eating. In addition, black cumin (like practically any other food) can lead to allergic reactions – intolerances can never be ruled out. However, it is generally considered to be very well tolerated and almost free of side effects.

However, black cumin oil is toxic for cats due to the essential oils – it should therefore be kept out of the reach of four-legged friends. On the other hand, black cumin oil is not toxic for dogs – quite the opposite: If you add a few drops of black cumin oil (1 mg per 10 kg body weight) to your dog’s food or water, ticks should stay away from him.

Interactions of black seed oil

Interactions of black cumin oil with medicines are not yet known, but cannot be ruled out. If you have to take medication regularly if in doubt, ask your doctor or pharmacist before taking it.

Store black cumin oil correctly

Black cumin oil has a shelf life of about three months after opening the bottle (observe the manufacturer’s instructions). It is best stored in a cool place with temperatures between 10 and 15 degrees. Otherwise, it can also be stored in the refrigerator. At temperatures below 7 degrees, oil can become flaky – so don’t be surprised if you see crystal-like flakes floating in the oil. Unopened and stored in a cool place, black cumin oil should have a shelf life of at least a year.

You can tell whether the oil is still good by its smell and taste – if it smells or tastes rancid, you should stop using it. However, if the expiry date has passed but the oil still tastes good, you can continue to use it.

Black cumin in the kitchen

Since it has a very spicy, slightly nutty taste, black cumin seeds can be sprinkled over various dishes as a topping, e.g. B. on salads or bread. Black cumin is particularly popular on flatbreads. You can use the whole seeds raw or lightly roasted. Roasted they provide a crispy mouthfeel. The seeds also taste wonderful in bread dough, in vegetable and lentil dishes, and in curries.

You can also use whole seeds or black cumin powder for spice mixtures. The seeds are part of the Bengali spice mixture Panch Phoron. In addition to black cumin, this contains black mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cumin, and fenugreek. B. can be used for dal. Black cumin seeds also get along well with sesame, thyme, and coriander. Black cumin oil, on the other hand, provides that certain something in the salad dressing. Due to its intense aroma, however, it should be used sparingly – a teaspoon is usually enough.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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