Indian cooks use cumin in several spice blends to flavor savory main dishes, such as lentil and vegetable curries. Indian spice blends with cumin include garam masala, curry powder and Bengali panch phoron. In Sri Lanka, cooks use it in curries along with a blend of spices, such as coriander and cinnamon.
Throughout Arabic cultures, particularly in Northern Africa, cooks use the spice in savory meat and vegetable dishes prepared in clay pots, or tagines. It is also a common spice in chickpea dishes, such as hummus and falafel. Several Middle Eastern spice blends contain cumin, including baharat from Saudi Arabia and zhoug from Yemen.
Some traditional cheeses in Europe include cumin as a flavoring. For example, Leyden cheese from Holland is a cow’s milk cheese in the Gouda family that has cumin seeds along with cloves and caraway seeds. Use of cumin as an alternative for ground black pepper dates back to the Middle Ages in Europe. In Mexico, cumin often accompanies other spices and chilies in various meat and bean dishes.
Cumin comes from the seeds of a plant native to Egypt. It has appeared in dishes in Europe, Africa and Asia for thousands of years, and the Bible mentions its use as a seasoning in soups and breads of the time.