- Ajwain seed
Ajwain seed, Trachysoermum ammi, pronounced “aj’o-wen”, is a member of the Apiaceae family (commonly called the carrot, celery or parsley family) and is related to anise, asafoetida, caraway, carrot, celery, chervil, coriander, cumin, dill, fennel, parsley and parsnip. While some believe they’re native to southern India, botanists have found the greatest genetic variety in the Eastern Mediterranean which means it is indigenous to that region.
The grayish-green seeds are curved and striped (resembling caraway or cumin seeds in appearance), often with a fine silk stalk still attached.
Ajwain has 2.5% to 5% essential oil, primarily phenols-thymol (35% to 60%) and carvacrol (about 11%).
Called ajwan, kamun al-mulaki or taleb el koub (Arabic), yin dou eng hui xiang (Mandarin), nanava (Farsi), ajowan (French, German, Japanese, Portuguese and Spanish) and ajwain or carom omum (Hindi). Also called Bishop’s Weed, Carom and Ethiopian Cumin. Alternative spellings include Ajowan and Ajwan.
Ajwain is typically found in Asian, Ethiopian, North Indian, Iranian and Pakistani cuisines and pairs well with starchy foods, especially ciabatta (long oblong, flat shaped Italian bread with a soft interior and a lightly crunchy crust), flat breads (such as paratha), green beans, legumes, and root vegetables. They’re quite popular in North Indian (especially in Gujarat and Punjab) vegetarian dishes. When fired in butter or oil, they release a thyme-like fragrance. Due to their overpowering flavor, whole seeds are not typically used early in the cooking process, although they do well in some breads.
Good with fish (especially when used with garlic and lemon juice) and recipes using chickpea flour. Ajwain is frequently used in bean dishes, as it relieves gas, similar to epazote, and makes starchy foods and meats easier to digest.
Ajwain pairs well with fish curries, lentil stews, nuts, pastries and bitter vegetables.
Works well in combination with cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, fennel seed, ground cloves, garlic, pepper and turmeric.
The seeds are generally crushed and added to dishes during the final stage of cooking. Be sure to use sparingly as its bold flavor can easily make a dish bitter. When cooked, the flavor mellows similar to oregano or thyme.
Because of the high oil content in the seeds, they quickly lose their flavor once ground – so grind only what you need for any given recipe.
The fragrance is strong, with thyme and cumin undertones and the taste is hot with a bit of an initial kick that mellows a bit after.
The aroma grows stronger when the seeds are first ground or when fried in oil or butter.
Ajwain can be used in place of cumin for a surprisingly different flavor and substituted for thyme when we are looking for a more robust thyme flavor.