Uses for caraway seeds

Contents

Caraway Seeds: Health Benefits and Remedies

The health benefits of caraway seeds have been known since antiquity. In fact, caraway (carum carvi) remains one of the oldest herbs and medicinal plants still in use in Europe. In addition to healing, caraway seeds have a long culinary and medicinal history.

Take a look at the end of this post for caraway seed remedies inspired by Hildegard.

Let’s take a closer look at this healthy and healing, caraway plant.

What is Caraway?

Caraway, sometimes referred to as Meridian Fennel of Persian Cumin, is a biennial flowering plant in the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family. The Apiaceae family includes celery, carrot, fennel, and parsley varieties, notable for their hollow stems and aromatic qualities.

Caraway is native to Europe, North Africa, and western Asia. It grows wild in damp meadows, pastures, and roadsides. The caraway plant has also been widely cultivated, so it can be easily grown in your Hildegarden at home.

Wild Caraway Plant

As a biennial plant, caraway won’t mature (produce fruit) until the second growing season, though its leaves in the first year can be a nice addition to a soup or salad. The caraway plant can grow up to three feet tall, with delicate, feathery leaves. Caraway will bloom white or pink flowers from May to July before producing its fruit.

What are Caraway Seeds?

Caraway seeds are not seeds at all. The caraway plant produces its seeds in achenes. Achenes are a type of fruit defined by its simple, dried form – and that they contain only one seed. So technically, the “seeds” we use from the caraway plant are actually an achene, or fruit. The fruit (and leaves) of the caraway plant are very similar to other plants in the celery family, which is why caraway is sometimes confused with fennel or cumin.

Caraway seeds

Caraway, however, is a distinct plant. Caraway seeds are also distinct, though only upon close inspection. The crescent shaped caraway seed is darker in color and smoother than the cumin seed. Caraway seeds are also more bitter than cumin. The aroma of caraway seeds can be described as slightly minty or peppery.

What do caraway seeds taste like?

Caraway seeds have an anise-like (mild licorice) flavor, though it is more complex and less pronounced than the anise flavor in fennel seeds. Like fennel seeds, caraway can be used as an anise seed substitute, but they do have a distinct flavor of their own.

Caraway seeds also have an herbal bitterness with pronounced aromatic qualities. This is why caraway seeds are a common savory spice in traditional European cooking and baking.

Caraway seeds is a common cooking spice

The unique flavor profile of caraway seeds is due to the high concentration of natural essential oils. Together with the dense supply of antioxidants, these volatile oils are behind many of the medicinal and health benefits of caraway.

How are Caraway Seeds Used?

People have been using caraway as both a culinary and medicinal plant for a very long time. In fact, humans began harvesting caraway in the Neolithic period. During the Middle Ages, people consumed caraway as a digestive aid after a big feast to prevent bloating and other digestive issues.

You may be familiar with caraway as a spice in breads or ethnic deserts. European, African, and Asian cultures have widely used caraway as a flavoring spice. Typically, caraway seeds are harvested and dried. The seeds are either used whole or ground into a powder.

Caraways seeds can be used whole or as powder

In addition to the many culinary uses, caraway is scientifically recognized for its healing properties. The small crescent-shaped fruits of the caraway plant promote healthy digestion, relieve gas, prevent bloating, and ease heartburn.

Serving Caraway in Meals

Caraway is popular in traditional German cooking as a seasoning for cabbage dishes, sauerkraut, breads, onion tart, fried potatoes, and much more. The early uses of caraway remain consistent with its use in Germany today. Germans believe that all dishes are easier on the stomach when accompanied by caraway.

You can use caraway in many ways to spice up your dish

You can use the whole caraway fruit in dishes to add spice, flavor, and texture. Alternatively, to moderate the flavor, you can cook dishes with caraway fruit and then remove the fruit before serving. Caraway roots harvested (like carrots) in the first year of vegetation can add a special touch to a spring soup.

How to Harvest Caraway Seeds

Caraway seeds health benefits are greatest when the fruit is ripe and ready for harvest, appearing brownish in color, like a seed. At that point, trim the flower clusters or umbels and hang them to dry in a breezy, shady place.

Once the fruits are dry, pinch them from the flower clusters, or umbels and store the fruit in bags or jars in a cool, dark, dry place. Once ripe and dried, the caraway fruit has two primary features, its curved sickle shape, and its five ribs.

Caraway plant resembles fennel

History of Medicinal Uses of Caraway Seeds

“For those who are short of breath, and suffering in the lungs, caraway is good and useful, whenever it’s eaten. But, those with heart-pain or otherwise sickly should avoid it.” – Hildegard of Bingen

Every year since 1999, the Institute for the History of Medicine at the University of Wurzberg in Germany has named a medicinal plant of the year. In 2016, the University recognized caraway for its long history as a medicinal plant.

Caraway has been a valued spice throughout history. Hosts would lavish caraway seeds on their guests to show appreciation and generosity. Hildegard of Bingen valued caraway as both a healing culinary spice and a medicinal plant. Hildegard also believed caraway promoted overall balance and clear thinking. She believed that those who included caraway in their diet would experience improved health, a greater sense of well-being, and renewed vitality.

Caraway has been named the medical plant of the year in 2016

Caraway seeds health benefits continues to gather interest in scientific research. Many of the traditional medicinal uses of caraway seeds have demonstrated efficacy in modern studies, particularly relating to healthy digestion.

Caraway Seeds Health Benefits for Digestive Issues

In Germany, caraway has a long tradition as the best herbal remedy for stomach bloating and intestinal cramps. It calms an irritated or nervous stomach, promotes complete digestion of the food we eat, and prevents bloating and flatulence.

Caraway Seeds for Digestive Health

For conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, caraway helps rebuild intestinal flora and yeast. Caraway also has some antimicrobial properties that may support the development of beneficial intestinal bacteria, such as bifidobacteria, a common ingredient in probiotics, while fighting off bacteria like streptococcus.

In Germany, caraway’s primary medicinal uses are for the relief of cramps and for probiotic and antimicrobial benefits within the digestive system. Caraway improves digestion by stimulating the secretion of gastric juices and improving circulation of blood and intestinal mucus through the stomach.

Caraway is great with Sauerkraut

Caraway improves overall digestion, which tends to reduce bloating and flatulence, and help stimulate a healthy appetite. The natural probiotic effect also helps rebuild healthy intestinal flora.

Medicinal uses of Caraway Seeds

The European Scientific Cooperative on Phytotherapy (“ESCOP”) has also officially recognized caraway for use in resolving stomach difficulties and flatulence in colicky children.

Caraway has also received official recognition in treating Roemhild syndrome, a condition involving anxiety and panic attacks arising from chest pains derived from large accumulations of gas in the stomach and intestines.

More Caraway Seeds Health Benefits

Among caraway seeds health benefits, caraway has also been shown to resolve mild lung conditions. Hildegard and her successors recommend using caraway seasoning regularly in foods for people with asthma. In addition, whether used with a warm towel on the forehead, or in tea, caraway is an effective home remedy for headaches and migraines.

Caraway is an effective home remedy for headaches and migraines

In infants, caraway helps facilitate the digestion of breast mild and simultaneously promotes lactation for the mother during breast-feeding. For infants, add one tablespoon to the bottle.

Hildegard’s Caraway Remedies

Through Hildegard of Bingen’s medicine, we have found a few caraway recipes that you can use for the health benefits of caraway.

Caraway Seed Blend for Gas or Bloating

Hildegard specifically designed this to address the sort of “heart pains” associated with Roemheld syndrome. But it is great to relieve common bouts of gas, bloating, or indigestion.

Ingredients:

  • 6 parts caraway
  • 2 parts pepper
  • 1 part fenugreek

Preparation: Pulverize and mix the powder of all three. After meals, consume a teaspoon of the blend, chew well and swallow. Follow with a glass of water.

Caraway seeds have demonstrated efficacy in modern studies

Hildegard suggested preventative care for those inclined to heart or chest discomfort related to gas or bloating, “chew it calmly after breakfast, before you realize any weakness of the heart or experience any discomfort.”

Essential Caraway Oil for Stomach Pain

You can apply essential caraway oil topically to relieve stomach pain and eliminate flatulence. This caraway seed remedy works for infants and young children as well as for adults. Simply massage the essential caraway oil mixture, applied with a base oil, such as olive oil, coconut oil, or almond oil.

Essential Caraway Oil

Ingredients:

  • 1 teaspoon of essential caraway oil
  • 3 teaspoons of olive oil

Preparation: Combine essential oils in a small medicine bottle with a dropper. Gently shake the bottle around until the two oils appear combined. Use 20-40 drops for a belly massage. If the abdominal skin appears dry, add a bit more olive oil.

Spare the belly button (which is often very sensitive) and massage gently in a clockwise manner around the belly button, marking the pattern of the colon. Essential caraway oil is effective for relieving adults with digestive disorders as well as infants and small children with flatulence.

Caraway is effective to relieving digestive disorders

The key ingredient of caraway fruits is the essential oil, 60% of which is composed of the terpenoid, carvone. Carvone is responsible for caraway’s characteristic smell, its unmistakable taste, and many of its health benefits. Caraway essential oil also contains flavonoids, fatty acids, and protein.

How to Make Caraway Tea

Caraway seeds health benefits also include a proven home remedy for women with painful menstruation. This caraway tea recipe is easy – and tastes great!

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tsp. of crushed caraway seeds (per cup of hot water)
  • (Optional) 1 Tsp Raw unfiltered organic honey

Caraway Tea to support healthy digestion

Preparation: The first step in preparing caraway tea involves crushing the caraway fruit with a mortar and pestle, or alternatively, using a peppermill to grind the dried fruit. Crushing or grinding the caraway helps release the essential oils and rich flavors.

Use 1 teaspoon of crushed caraway per cup of hot water. Allow 10 minutes to steep. Do not boil the tea, or use boiling water to avoid damaging the essential oils.

This caraway seed tea recipe also supports healthy digestion, particularly when consumed after a meal.

For a more comprehensive digestive aid mix equal parts caraway, peppermint, and chamomile. This blend represents the ideal combination for the entire digestive tract. Caraway extract dampens flatulence and soothes the intestines, peppermint resolves cramps and relieves stomach pain, and chamomile has antibacterial and mild relaxing effects.

The Caraway Seed Is A Spice Worth Meeting

Domenica Marchetti for NPR Domenica Marchetti for NPR

Get recipes for Whole-Wheat Fettuccine With Savoy Cabbage, Cream And Caraway Seeds, Heartland Brisket and James Beard’s Seed Cake.

I’ve always thought caraway to be an underappreciated spice. It holds none of the historical significance of cinnamon, cloves, pepper or other prized spices that for centuries drove commerce among Asia, Africa and Europe (and that ultimately led to the discovery of the Americas).

In flavor, it lacks the Mediterranean perfume of its cousin fennel or the allure of cumin, another close relative. Its aroma is sharp and slightly aggressive, and if you bite into a seed on its own, there is, at first, a certain soapiness to its flavor.

But beneath the surface, there is complexity to this sturdy spice. It’s peppery and earthy, and even a little citrusy. I can’t imagine a good pastrami on rye without it. Or a decent pumpernickel roll. It cuts through the richness of meat dishes and gives character to cabbage.

Caraway is the key ingredient in aquavit, a Scandinavian spirit flavored with spices and citrus peel; and kummel, a sweet liqueur originally distilled in Holland but now primarily produced in Russia. There’s even a bit of lore mixed in. In medieval times, it was thought to keep lovers interested in one another.

But it doesn’t inspire thoughts of romance in everyone.

“It was a cheap peasant spice,” says culinary historian Michael Krondl, author of Around the American Table: Treasured Recipes and Food Traditions from the American Cookery Collection of the New York Public Library.

“I have a German cookbook from the 18th century in which it shows up no fewer than 35 times,” he says. Krondl, who is of German heritage, says caraway was ever-present in the dishes of his childhood. “My parents would put it on potatoes, duck, pork, soups. I grew up with the stuff, and I hated it.”

Patty Erd, longtime spice merchant and owner of The Spice House, also has lukewarm memories of it. “I never cared for caraway in bread, and did not like rye bread at all,” says Erd. “I just skipped the bread that was part of our daily dinner.”

The grandmother of Erd’s husband, Tom, had a New Year’s Eve tradition of boiling shrimp in water flavored only with caraway. “A select few of us felt that was a great waste of shrimp,” Erd says.

And for years, when The Spice House’s flagship store in Milwaukee hosted its annual Riversplash Festival, local business leaders bitterly debated whether to add caraway to the sauerkraut that accompanied the bratwurst that were served. “People really felt strongly about it,” Erd recalls.

About The Author

Domenica Marchetti is the author of five books on Italian cooking, including The Glorious Pasta of Italy and, forthcoming this fall, The Glorious Vegetables of Italy. She is the co-founder of American Food Roots, a new website that explores why we eat what we eat. She also blogs about Italian home cooking at www.domenicacooks.com.

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In caraway’s defense (she is a spice merchant after all), Erd says the spice’s history, if not illustrious, is noteworthy.

“It seems caraway was Europe’s oldest condiment,” she says. Evidence found in lake dwellings in Switzerland suggests it dates back at least 5,000 years. The Romans get credit for spreading the seeds throughout Europe in their conquering travels, and it was cultivated in Europe from Sicily to Scandinavia since the Middle Ages. Early uses for caraway were medicinal, Erd says. References found in German medical books dating back to the 12th century cite it as a stomach tonic as well as a remedy for flatulence and colic.

In the kitchen, caraway’s role extends well beyond rye bread or even German food. It is a member of the family that also includes carrots, dill, fennel and parsley. It has long been prominent in Scandinavian and Eastern European cooking, and also is found in the cuisine of North Africa, most notably in harissa, the hot chili paste used to flavor soups, couscous, stews and other recipes.

In baking, caraway turns up in biscuits and cakes, including some versions of Irish soda bread and British seed cake, where it is folded into the poundcake-like batter.

It may be that my own fondness for caraway stems from the fact that it did not figure into my Italian mother’s cooking. Mostly I enjoyed it in the overstuffed pastrami on rye sandwiches I ordered at Carnegie Deli on family day trips into New York City.

I find myself cooking with caraway often this time of year, when March’s winds can seem more unforgiving than the snow and ice of January or February. I like its sharp flavor, its slightly bitter finish, and the way it brings to life otherwise bland foods like potatoes and cabbage.

One of my favorite recipes featuring caraway is a dish called heartland brisket, which is every bit as comforting as it sounds. And, somewhat unconventionally, I use caraway as the primary seasoning in my recipe for whole-wheat fettuccine tossed with cabbage, cream and pancetta.

On the sweet side, the aforementioned British seed cake is easy to make and serves as a satisfying late-winter afternoon snack, spread with a little fig jam and accompanied by a cup of hot tea.

I say it’s time to put the romance back in caraway. Who knows? Maybe it will repay in kind.

Recipe: Whole-Wheat Fettuccine With Savoy Cabbage, Cream And Caraway Seeds

My Italian mother did not cook with caraway seeds, and you might think this assertive spice would be out of place in an Italian pasta dish. In fact, it pairs beautifully with braised savoy cabbage and earthy whole-wheat pasta. When I’m feeling ambitious I make my own whole-wheat fettuccine. But when I want to keep things simple I use boxed dried pasta. This recipe is from my book The Glorious Pasta of Italy (Chronicle Books, 2011).

Domenica Marchetti for NPR Domenica Marchetti for NPR

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

4 ounces pancetta, diced

1 shallot, finely chopped

2 teaspoons caraway seeds, lightly crushed (pressing on them with a cast-iron skillet works well)

Freshly ground black pepper

1/2 head savoy cabbage, quartered through the stem end, cored and finely shredded crosswise

1/2 cup chicken broth

Kosher or sea salt (optional)

1 cup heavy cream

1 pound whole-wheat fettuccine

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Warm the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the pancetta, stir to coat with the oil and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the pancetta is sizzling and has begun to render its fat and is just starting to crisp. Stir in the shallot, caraway seeds and a generous grinding of pepper. Saute for about 5 minutes, or until the shallot is translucent and softened.

Add as much cabbage as will fit in the pan. Pour 1/4 cup of the broth over the cabbage and cover. Let the cabbage cook for a few minutes, until it has started to wilt. Add more cabbage and a splash more broth. Cover and let cook until wilted. Continue until you have added the last of the cabbage and broth. Cook, stirring from time to time, for about 15 minutes, or until the cabbage is just tender but still slightly crunchy.

Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt if you like. Stir in the cream, raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for no more than 10 minutes, until the sauce is slightly thickened.

While the sauce is cooking, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously. Add the pasta and cook, according to the manufacturer’s instructions, until al dente (if you’re using fresh pasta, it will be done in under 5 minutes). Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink and reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water.

Transfer the pasta to the saute pan and turn the heat to the lowest possible setting. Toss gently to combine the pasta and sauce thoroughly, adding a splash or two of the reserved cooking water if necessary to loosen the sauce. Transfer the dressed pasta to a warmed serving bowl or shallow individual bowls. Sprinkle a little of the Parmigiano over the top and serve immediately. Pass the remaining cheese at the table.

Recipe: Heartland Brisket

This robust braise of beef is one of those hands-off dishes that more or less cooks itself. All you need is a simple green salad on the side. And it comes with a bonus: The brisket tastes even better warmed in its sauce the next day. Shred the meat and pile it onto a bun. Although the recipe calls for using brisket that has been rolled and tied, I often skip that step and just cook the brisket as is. This recipe is from Savoring the Seasons of the Northern Heartland by Beth Dooley and Lucia Watson (University of Minnesota Press, 1994).

Domenica Marchetti for NPR Domenica Marchetti for NPR

Makes 6 to 8 servings

3 pounds brisket, rolled and tied (rolling and tying optional)

2 tablespoons bacon fat, butter or vegetable oil

6 medium onions, thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups beef broth

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 (12-ounce) bottle dark beer, such as stout or porter

2 bay leaves

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 tablespoon caraway seeds

1 tablespoon cracked pepper

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large, flameproof casserole or roasting pan, brown the meat on all sides in the fat, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Remove the meat and set aside. Saute the onions and garlic until very soft and light brown, 20 to 30 minutes. Add the broth and stir, making sure to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the remaining ingredients except the caraway seeds and pepper and stir. Return the meat to the pan, cover and place in the oven.

Braise the meat 2 1/2 to 3 hours, basting occasionally with the sauce and spreading some of the onions on top. During the last 30 minutes or so of cooking, sprinkle the top with the caraway seeds and pepper. To serve, slice the meat and spoon the sauce on top.

Recipe: James Beard’s Seed Cake

“No tea table, in my opinion, is complete without a good seed cake,” wrote James Beard in his memoir, Delights and Prejudices. Recipes for this traditional British cake date back to the 1500s, with some versions containing yeast and others resembling poundcake. Beard’s version is the latter type, a simple cake of butter, flour, eggs, sugar and a little leavening, plus the caraway seeds. Somehow, the baking tames the flavor of the seeds. They add character to the cake without taking over. I’ve found that this cake is especially good toasted and topped with a dollop of fig jam. This recipe is adapted from Delights and Prejudices by James Beard (Atheneum, 1964).

Domenica Marchetti for NPR Domenica Marchetti for NPR

Makes one 8-inch loaf cake

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup sugar

5 large eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 to 2 tablespoons caraway seeds

Butter and flour an 8-inch loaf pan and set aside. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the whisk attachment, cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and caraway seeds. Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture, beating until well incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until golden on top and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the pan on a cooling rack and let cool for 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and let cool to room temperature before serving.

Everything You Need to Know About Caraway

Caraway has been used in traditional and folk medicine for centuries. Interestingly, preliminary research supports several of these benefits.

May reduce inflammation

Several caraway compounds demonstrate strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (2).

While inflammation is a natural bodily response, chronic inflammation can lead to various ailments, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Its symptoms may include ulcers, cramping, gas, diarrhea, bowel urgency, and irritation of digestive tissue.

In a study in mice with IBD, both caraway extract and essential oil reduced inflammation in colon tissue as effectively as common steroid-based drugs (6).

Despite these promising results, human research is needed.

May encourage healthy digestion

Caraway has historically been utilized to treat several digestive conditions, including indigestion and stomach ulcers.

A handful of small human studies show that caraway oil relaxes your digestive tract’s smooth muscle tissue, thus relieving indigestion symptoms like gas, cramping, and bloating (7, 8, 9).

Although the precise mechanism is unknown, its antimicrobial capacity may be responsible (1, 2).

One test-tube study revealed that caraway essential oil blocked the growth of harmful gut bacteria while leaving beneficial bacteria untouched. These good bacteria produce nutrients, reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and support your immune health (10, 11).

Another test-tube study found that caraway extract fought H. pylori, a bacterium known to cause stomach ulcers and digestive inflammation (12).

All the same, more studies are necessary.

May promote weight loss

Caraway may support weight loss and body composition.

In a 90-day study in 70 women, those who took 1 ounce (30 ml) of a 10% caraway oil solution daily experienced significantly greater reductions in weight, body mass index (BMI), and body fat percentage than those who received a placebo (13).

They also saw significant declines in total calorie and carb intake, compared with the placebo group.

Scientists speculate that these effects may be due to positive changes in gut bacteria that affect hormone regulation, fat metabolism, and appetite.

Keep in mind that research is ongoing.

Summary

Early research suggests that caraway may promote weight loss and help treat various inflammatory conditions and digestive disorders.

Caraway Uses – What To Do With Caraway Plants

A pastrami and rye sandwich just wouldn’t be the same without caraway plant seeds. It’s the caraway that sets rye bread apart from all other deli breads, but did you ever wonder how else to use caraway seeds? There are a plethora of caraway uses, primarily for use in cooking but also to cure medical woes. Read on if you’re interested in what to do with caraway post harvest.

About Caraway Herb Plants

Caraway (Carum carvi) is a hardy, biennial herb native to Europe and Western Asia. It is primarily grown for its fruit, or seeds, but both the roots and leaves are edible. Caraway is a member of the umbelliferous, aromatic plants along with anise, cumin, dill, and fennel. Like these spices, caraway is naturally sweet with a licorice flavor.

The first season of growth, caraway plants form a rosette of leaves that look rather like carrots

with a long taproot. They grow to around 8 inches (20 cm.) in height.

In the second season of growth, 2- to 3-foot tall stalks are topped by flat umbels of white or pink flowers from May to August. The following seeds are small, brown and shaped like a crescent moon.

Caraway Uses

If your experience with caraway seeds extends only as far as the aforementioned pastrami and rye, then you might be wondering what to do with caraway plant seeds. The roots are similar to parsnips and, just like this root veggie, are delicious when roasted and eaten alongside meat dishes or added into soups or stews.

The leaves of caraway herb plants can be harvested throughout the summer and added into salads or dried for future addition into soups and stews.

The seeds, however, can be found in many different cultures in pastries and confections and even in liqueurs. How to use caraway seeds from the garden? Incorporate them into poaching liquid for fish, pork roasts, tomato-based soups or sauces, warm German potato salad, or into coleslaw or cabbage lovers’ favorite dish – sauerkraut.

Essential oils pressed from the seeds have been used in many cosmetics such as soaps, lotions, creams and perfumes. It has even found its way into herbal toothpastes.

In times past, caraway was used to soothe a number of physical ailments. At one time, it was even believed that caraway herb plants could act as a talisman to protect people from witches and was also added to love potions. More recently, caraway was added to the food of tame pigeons, with the belief that they would not stray if fed this delicious herb of many uses.

You might be wondering “What is caraway?” — and you’re not alone. If you don’t know what a caraway seed is or what it’s used for, don’t worry. Many people don’t realize how common the small seeds are! But if you’ve ever tasted rye bread, you’d tried a caraway seed.

Caraway seeds have a strong smell resembling anise and add a slight flavor of licorice to dishes. Popular throughout Europe, caraway seeds offer several health benefits like regulated digestion. They can also add unexpected, complex flavors to desserts, stews, vegetables, cheeses and condiments. With a bit of cooking creativity, you’ll find caraway seeds will be your favorite new kitchen pantry staple.

What Are Caraway Seeds?

Caraway seeds are actually not seeds at all — they are the dried fruit of the caraway plant, a biennial flowering plant of the Apiaceae family. This plant family also produces celery, carrot, fennel and parsley, and is known for its hollow stems and strong, fragrant smells. When the caraway plant is mature, it develops a dried fruit containing a single seed. If properly harvested, these seeds can add zest and bold flavor to cooking.

How to Cook With Caraway Seeds

Many people wonder how to use caraway seeds in cooking. Featuring a strong scent and lingering flavor, caraway seeds are an intimidating flavor for many cooks. But their flavor can be compared as a mixture between cumin and fennel, with touches of licorice. Due to their fennel and anise flavor inspirations, caraway seeds are not universally popular at first whiff. However, if you’re open to sampling distinct and complex flavor profiles, caraway seeds can add a fresh, sweet element to many dishes.

Caraway seeds are often used as a flavor enhancer for baking. They can be found in rye and soda breads, as well as traditional British baked goods. Many people also prefer to incorporate the seeds into savory dishes, given the flavor profile. Caraway seeds are often used to flavor tangy foods since they pair well with cabbage, garlic and pork. These seeds make an excellent addition to:

  • Potato salads and coleslaw
  • Tomato-based sauces and soups
  • Roasted potatoes and sweet potatoes, peas and carrots
  • Shortbread or Irish soda bread cookies
  • Baked apples or pears

Using Caraway Seeds as a Flavor Substitute

Because caraway seeds are a member of the celery and parsley family, they can make a wonderful and bold substitution in recipes calling for coriander seeds or cumin. When replacing cumin with caraway seeds, you will lose a bit of that characteristic heat that makes cumin a popular flavor.

It’s best to start slow, using only half the recommended measurement and tasting as you go to find the right balance of flavors. Once you find that perfect balance of substituting caraway seeds in your favorite family recipes, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner!

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Perhaps most well-known as a central ingredient in soda bread and rye, caraway seeds are a powerful spice that bring a mix of flavor, aroma and health benefits to the table. In addition to being high in disease-fighting antioxidants, emerging evidence also shows that caraway seeds may promote healthy digestion, increase weight loss and help keep blood sugar levels stable.

So what is caraway seed used for, and why should you consider upping your intake of this stellar spice cabinet staple? Here’s what you need to know.

Caraway, also known as Persian cumin, meridian fennel or its scientific name, Carum carvi, is a plant that is closely related to carrots, parsley, celery, coriander and cumin. It has feathery leaves and produces small pink and white flowers — as well as a crescent-shaped fruit, which is also known as the caraway seed.

Caraway seeds have a strong, pungent flavor and aroma. This is due to the presence of compounds such as limonene, carvone and anethole. They are often used whole in desserts, salads, soups, stews and baked goods. The essential oils of the fruit are also extracted and used in many commercial products, such as medications and flavored liqueurs.

Some of the potential caraway seeds benefits include increased weight loss, decreased blood sugar and improved digestive health. They are also a great source of several important vitamins, minerals and antioxidants, making them an excellent addition to a well-balanced, healing diet.

Top 6 Caraway Seeds Benefits

  1. High in Antioxidants
  2. Support Digestive Health
  3. Promote Weight Loss
  4. May Help Fight Cancer Cells
  5. Could Prevent Seizures
  6. Stabilize Blood Sugar

1. High in Antioxidants

Caraway seeds are loaded with antioxidants. These powerful compounds help fight free radicals and prevent damage to the cells. In addition to neutralizing free radicals and reducing oxidative stress, antioxidants are thought to aid in the prevention of chronic conditions, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Interestingly enough, one animal model published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology found that supplementing with caraway seeds was able to significantly increase serum antioxidant levels in rats. Although more research is needed to understand the effects on humans, this could potentially have far-reaching effects on health and disease.

2. Support Digestive Health

Caraway seeds have long been used as a natural remedy for digestive issues, such as gas, bloating and constipation. This is thanks in part to their high fiber content. Just one tablespoon supplies 2.5 grams of fiber.

Fiber passes through the digestive tract very slowly and helps add bulk to the stool to relieve constipation and support regularity. Studies show that upping your intake of fiber can aid in the treatment of constipation, hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and intestinal ulcers. One human study even found that caraway oil was effective at reducing symptom severity and providing relief for patients with irritable bowel syndrome.

3. Promote Weight Loss

Caraway seeds can be a great addition to a healthy diet to help curb cravings, reduce appetite and boost weight loss with minimal effort required. According to a 2013 study published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, supplementing with caraway extract for 90 days resulted in a significant reduction in weight and body fat of participants, even with no other changes to diet or exercise.

Another study had similar findings, reporting that consuming 30 milliliters of caraway extract led to significant reductions in appetite, carbohydrate intake and body weight after just 90 days.

4. May Help Fight Cancer Cells

Caraway seeds contain a highly concentrated amount of antioxidants, which are powerful compounds that help neutralize free radicals and reduce the risk of chronic disease. Thanks to their rich content of antioxidants, caraway seeds are believed to have potent cancer-fighting properties.

For example, one animal model out of India found that supplementing with caraway extract was effective at improving antioxidant status and preventing lesion formation in rats with colon cancer. Another animal study also found that consuming caraway seeds helped block the growth of new tumor cells in the colon.

5. Could Prevent Seizures

Although research is still limited, some studies show that caraway seeds could have anti-convulsant properties and may help protect against seizures. One animal model conducted by the Shiraz University of Medical Sciences showed that administering the extracts and essential oils of caraway seeds to rats helped prevent several different types of seizures. However, more research is needed to determine whether these effects apply to humans as well.

6. Stabilize Blood Sugar

Some research suggests that adding caraway seed to your diet can help regulate blood sugar levels to protect against diabetes symptoms, such as increased thirst, fatigue and unintentional weight changes. In fact, one animal model out of Morocco showed that administering caraway seed extract to diabetic rats was effective at lowering blood sugar levels.

Plus, caraway seeds are also a great source of fiber. Fiber can have a powerful impact on blood sugar control and can help slow the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream to keep blood sugar levels stable.

Caraway Seed Nutrition Facts

Caraway seeds are considered a nutrient-dense food. This means they are low in calories but pack a good amount of fiber and antioxidants into each serving. They also contain several important micronutrients, including iron, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc.

One tablespoon (about 6 grams) of caraway seeds contains approximately:

  • 21.6 calories
  • 3.2 grams carbohydrates
  • 1.3 grams protein
  • 0.9 gram fat
  • 2.5 grams dietary fiber
  • 1.1 milligrams iron (6 percent DV)
  • 44.8 milligrams calcium (4 percent DV)
  • 16.8 milligrams magnesium (4 percent DV)
  • 36.9 milligrams phosphorus (4 percent DV)
  • 0.1 milligram manganese (4 percent DV)
  • 87.8 milligrams potassium (3 percent DV)
  • 0.1 milligram copper (3 percent DV)

In addition to the vitamins and minerals listed above, caraway seeds also contain a small amount niacin, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E, choline, zinc and selenium.

Caraway Seed Uses in Traditional Medicine

Traditionally, caraway seeds were served to promote digestion following a hearty meal. Thanks to their medicinal properties, they have also been used in several holistic forms of medicine and are considered one of the top herbs and spices for healing.

In Ayurvedic medicine, for example, caraway seeds are used to detoxify the body, stimulate digestion and increase circulation. They are thought to alkalize the body, decrease feelings of pain, settle the stomach and soothe cramps.

Meanwhile, in Traditional Chinese Medicine, caraway seeds are considered warming and pungent. They are also used to circulate qi, the vital energy of all living things. Caraway seeds are sometimes used to treat liver qi stagnation, which can cause issues like mood changes, constipation, abdominal pain and decreased appetite.

Caraway Seeds vs. Fennel Seeds vs. Cumin Seeds

Caraway, fennel and cumin seeds all share similarities in terms of taste and aroma, but there are several distinct differences between these three common kitchen ingredients.

What is fennel? Fennel is a type of flowering plant that belongs to the carrot family. It is favored for its distinct licorice-like flavor and versatility. Many people wonder: Are fennel seeds and caraway seeds the same? Although the caraway plant is closely related to fennel, the two are actually categorized as different species of plants. The main distinction between caraway seeds vs. fennel is in terms of flavor. Fennel has a mild taste that is very similar to anise seed, while caraway seeds have an earthy, citrus-like flavor. For this reason, caraway seeds are often used as a popular fennel seed substitute in many different recipes.

Cumin seeds, on the other hand, are another plant in the same family. Cumin is a common staple in many types of cuisine. It is found in both whole and ground form. Like fennel, cumin is a popular caraway seeds substitute thanks to its nutty, earthy and somewhat spicy taste. Potential cumin health benefits include better digestion, improved immune function and more thanks to its impressive health-promoting properties.

Where to Find and How to Use Caraway Seeds

Caraway seeds are widely available at most grocery stores. They can be found in the spice aisle among other herbs and seasonings, such as fennel and cumin. If you have difficulty locating them in a store near you, you can also often buy black caraway seeds from online retailers as well.

So what do you use caraway seeds for? The caraway seeds taste has hints of licorice, citrus and pepper with an earthy undertone. It’s a highly aromatic and warm spice that brings a distinct, sharp flavor to a variety of different dishes.

Caraway seeds are frequently used in baked goods, including rye bread and soda bread. They can also be added to soups, salads, curries, coleslaws, sausages and mixed veggie dishes. Try sprinkling them over roasted potatoes, stews, dips or cabbage dishes. Alternatively, try swapping them into recipes that call for cumin for a slightly more mild caraway seed substitute.

Keep in mind that caraway seeds are highly concentrated and can supply a hearty dose of flavor, even in small amounts. In fact, most recipes call for around one teaspoon or less to bring a bit of warmth and aroma to dishes.

Caraway Seeds Recipes

There are many different options for adding caraway seeds into your diet. Here are a few simple recipes using caraway seeds to get you started:

  • Roasted Cauliflower and Grape Salad
  • Brussels Sprouts with Caraway and Tahini
  • Bohemian Goulash Soup
  • Roasted Cabbage Wedges with Orange and Caraway
  • Caraway Tea

History/Facts

The caraway plant is native to several different regions, including western Asia, Europe and North Africa. It’s known by many different names, most of which are derived from “cuminum,” which is the Latin word for cumin. The first use of the term “caraway” in English dates back to 1440. It is believed to be of Arabic origin.

Caraway seeds are considered a staple ingredient in many areas around world. In the Middle East, for instance, caraway seeds are added to desserts, such as keleacha, a sweet Syrian scone and meghli, a type of pudding served during Ramadan. In Serbia, they’re used to add flavor to cheeses and scones, such as pogačice s kimom. Meanwhile, the seeds are commonly added to rye bread and Irish soda bread in other parts of the world.

Today, caraway plants are cultivated throughout Europe, with Finland accounting for about 28 percent of global production. In addition to being widely used in many types of cuisine, the essential oils are also extracted for use in medications and liqueurs.

Precautions/Side Effects

Although uncommon, some people may be allergic to caraway seeds. If you experience any food allergy symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, itching or hives, after consuming foods that contain caraway seeds, discontinue use immediately and consult with your doctor.

For most people, caraway seeds consumed in food amounts are safe and can be enjoyed with minimal risk of side effects. However, eating high amounts is not recommended for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding as its potential effects have not been well-studied.

Because it may lower blood sugar levels, it may also interact with certain medications for diabetes. If you take any medications to lower your blood sugar, it’s best to keep intake in moderation and discuss any concerns with your doctor.

Final Thoughts

  • Caraway seeds are high in fiber and antioxidants, plus contain a small amount of micronutrients, such as iron, calcium, magnesium and phosphorus.
  • A few of the potential caraway seeds health benefits include improved blood sugar control, enhanced digestive health and increased weight loss. They may also contain cancer-fighting compounds and could aid in the prevention of seizures.
  • Fennel and cumin seeds are often used as a substitute for caraway seeds thanks to their similarities in taste and aroma. However, the three come from entirely different species of plants and have several minute differences between them.
  • Try adding caraway seeds to soups, salads, stews, curries and mixed vegetable dishes for a quick and convenient way to give your favorite recipes a nutritional boost.

Read Next: Turmeric & Curcumin Benefits: Can This Herb Really Combat Disease?

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