When asked what seasoning to put in enchiladas, burritos, and other Tex-Mex dishes, most of us will quickly mention cilantro as a favorite seasoning. While it is certainly important in these foods, I recommend adding ground cumin (pronounced like “come in”) for a more robust flavor. This is one of the annual herbs you can grow in your garden.
Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is a member of the same botanical family as cilantro, caraway, dill, and fennel. It grows to only about six inches high and produces pink to white flowers that develop into the cumin seeds.
Cumin can be grown from seed but it is important to have fresh seed no more than a few months old. If growing herbs from seed is difficult for you, buy young plants instead. Cumin, like cilantro, is best started as early as possible in the growing year. This herb has a tendency to droop. Plant individuals close together so they will support each other and keep the flowers from dipping too near the ground.
Ground cumin seeds add a deep earthy note to many meat dishes, especially chili sauce. Its distinctive flavor has been used for 5,000 years or more. Ancient Greeks kept a container on the dining table for use during a meal, much as we do pepper today. It is mentioned twice in the Bible, once indicating its occasional use as a means to pay a debt. Early Arab cultures believed cumin had aphrodisiac properties, combining it with black pepper and honey to make a condiment that would fortify the lover in his/her efforts.
Cumin may not make you the last of the red hot lovers, but the flavor will certainly crank up the heat in any dish. Grow some this year and try it yourself.