Middle Eastern word which became cuminum in Latin
According to the Bible, cumin seeds had so much medicinal value that they could be used as currency in the payment of debts. Their medical and economic role is attested to in documents from Egyptian physicians and Greek palace scribes dating back further than 1000 BC. Later, cumin was one of the staple plants grown in medieval monastery gardens.
Its flavour is so strong that the Romans would sometimes substitute it for pepper.
In the less modest days of the Indian Maharajahs, women from the harem would gather together to smoke. After placing a fresh, still moist, betel leaf on her lap, each woman would bring out from the folds of her sari a little flat metal case containing compartments filled with cardamom pods, cloves and green cumin seeds. She would sprinkle on a pinch of spices, add other ingredients, perhaps even very thin leaves of gold or silver, fold up the leaf and insert it under her cheek. She would salivate, swallow and spit, blissfully contemplative, executing all her gestures with the solemnity that was dictated by age-old tradition.
In Indian stores, while waiting to see merchandise that is displayed in the window, you will be offered cumin seeds to chew, seated on a thick mattress provided for regular customers.
In the first century BC, the Celts living along the French Atlantic coast used to cook their fish with cumin. Common in medieval herb gardens, this umbelliferous plant which arrived in eastern Europe with the Romans is a key ingredient in the drink called Kummel, German for cumin.
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