Packed with antioxidants, Nigella seeds are one of the oldest spices known to mankind. It is so easy to add them into your food. Read on to find how to use black seeds and gain from the many benefits.
I have to admit that writing this post has not been easy.
Not because I did not know what black seeds are but because they are so many confusing and contradictory articles on the use of black seeds aka Nigella seeds in cooking!!
My approach to this amazing spice is to limit it to how I use black seeds personally and the little knowledge I have gained watching my mother and grandma use Nigella seeds in their kitchen.
What are Nigella Seeds
Nigella or black seeds originates from a flowering plant that have tiny seeds that grow in a fruit. The scientific name of the flowering plant is Nigella sativa.
They are hugely popular to many cuisines especially the Mediterranean , Egypt, South East Asia, Middle East, North Africa and Southern Europe.
A reason for the world wide popularity and use is due to the abundance of health benefits of Nigella seeds.
They are said to be found in King Tutankhamen’s tomb as it was used as a preservative along with other spices.
Apart from the health benefits, nigella seeds adds oodles of flavour to many savoury dishes such as breads, cheese, pulses, vegetables , curries to name just a few.
What are the different names for Nigella seeds
I mentioned at the beginning that it was a bit challenging to write this article because of the confusion of Nigella seeds with other similar looking black seeds.
The reason is simple, all these seeds look alike and are black in colour therefore referred to as black seeds 🙂
What complicates the matter for us cooks is the different names given to Nigella seeds that can be very confusing.
To simplify, below are some of the common names for Nigella seeds. This is the reason I refer black seeds with different names in this article. They are:
- Black seeds
- Black Cumin ( again confused with Caraway Seeds as they are also referred as black cumin by some)
- Black caraway ( this does not help either)
- Fennel flower
- Roman coriander
- ‘Charnushka’ in the US
- ‘Kalonji’ in Hindi
- ‘Schwarzkümmel’ in German
- ‘Les graines de nigelle or cumin noir’ in French
- ‘Abésoda or ajenuz’ in Spanish
My suggestion, stick with black seeds that has ‘Nigella’ written on it. You will be safe !!
Few wrongly refer nigella as onion seeds or black sesame.
Looking at them from a distance without touching or smelling them they all look the same.
Onion seeds, black sesame and nigella seeds are different types of seeds.
Onion seeds are flatter, lighter and smaller by a millimetre of even less and has a taste that is more like …… you guessed it right , onions !!
Sesame seeds are the black version of white sesame, small, round and has the same nutty flavour just like white sesame seeds.
Nigella seeds on the other hand are more stony, hard, bright black and tear dropped shaped.
What do Nigella seeds taste like
The flavour of nigella seeds is mildly strong. That is you can feel the bitter pungent slightly smoky taste once you bite into one.
When you first smell nigella seeds it reminds you of a herby like quality. It has a unique blend of peppery, oregano and onion undertones.
How to cook with black cumin seeds
Being a popular spice frequently used in different cuisines there are many uses on nigella seeds in cooking.
In India they are used to make curries, lentils based dishes especially for making yellow lentils.
They are also used to make vegetable stir fries. Simply choose your vegetables, roast a teaspoon of black seeds in oil or butter and throw in your vegetables.
Black seeds will add aroma, taste and texture to your dish.
Due to the healing properties it is a very popular pickling spice along with mustard seeds and fennel seeds.
You may have already seen and tasted these tiny black stony seeds on top of breads such as naan.
You can also add them to salads, soups and sauces.
In Middle East they are are used to flavour pilaf.
Nigella seeds is also used to make other spice blends such as ‘Panch Phoran’ from India.
A point to note is that nigella seeds are primarily used to make savoury dishes.
This is because of the different savoury taste components of the spice.
What are the best nigella seeds substitute
Due to the combination of flavour , it is very easy to find a substitute for black seeds.
So if you read a recipe that calls for black seeds or nigella seeds do not shy away from it.
One of the best alternative to nigella seeds is using a combination of cumin seeds and caraway seeds.
Both cumin and caraway are different spices, again confused by many so clear the doubts here.
Lets break down the different types of nigella seeds substitute starting from the best option at number 1 onwards.
Option 1 – Combination of cumin seeds and caraway seeds
Option 2 – Celery seeds or carom seeds
Option 3 – Oregano
Option 4 – Cumin seeds
Option 5 – Black sesame seeds
Option 6 – Fennel seeds
If your pantry is well stocked and you happen to have some of the above listed spices then feel free to use a combination of 2 to replace black seeds in a dish.
Best food and spice combination with nigella seeds
Nigella seeds are used in many savoury dishes and go well with most vegetables, especially root veges, pulses and whole grains.
Best food pairing: potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, cauliflower, onions, tomatoes, orange and red vegetables, chicken, fish, red meat, ginger, lentils, peas, soups, stews, curry, gram flour, plain flour,
Best spice pairing: cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cumin powder, fenugreek seeds, bay leaves, red chilli powder, cloves, coriander seeds, dry chillies, turmeric
Benefits of eating black seeds
The medicinal benefits of Nigella seeds are highly known and extensively used in Ayurveda.
It is loaded with vitamins, minerals, crude fibre, iron, calcium, fatty acids and proteins.
Apart from these spices that naturally boost immunity system, research on nigella seeds have shown that they may have antioxidant and immunity-boosting benefits.
The underlying benefits is a reason enough as to why should you be using nigella seeds for cooking.
Black seeds for acne
Nigella seeds have anti bacterial properties that help remove impurities and improve skin texture.
Grind nigella seeds into powder and use it as a scrub to unclog pores and even out complexion.
Adding black seed oil with sweet lime juice is a natural skin remedy to fight against acne.
Regulate blood sugar levels
One of the best known benefits of black seed oil is as a remedy to prevent diabetes.
Mixing and drinking 1/2 tsp of black seed oil to a cup of black tea in the morning in an empty stomach will show you positive results in a month.
Nigella seeds for asthma, cold and cough
For people suffering from nasal congestion, asthma, cough and cold symptoms nigella seeds proves to be an effective natural remedy.
Boiling a tsp of nigella seeds in a bowl of water and inhaling the vapours will clear out phlegm and ease breathing.
You can grind a tsp of nigella seeds or add a few drops of black seed oil and drink it with a cup of warm water everyday to help with asthmatic conditions.
Helps control blood pressure
Drinking warm water, or any warm drink such as tea or milk with black seed oil or ground nigella seeds also helps with those suffering from hypertension.
Aids in weight loss
The active enzymes in nigella seeds contains high amount of dietary fibers, that help to keep the digestive system healthy and make metabolism better which eventually facilitate weight loss.
Mix 1/2 teaspoon of the oil or powdered nigella seeds with 2 teaspoons of honey in 1 cup of lukewarm water and consume about 2 to 3 times a day. It helps to boost the fat burning procedure by speeding up metabolism.
Some of the other known benefits are that it helps to boost energy levels, maintain healthy functioning of the kidney, works as a natural pain killer for aches and pains.
Side effects of nigella seeds
Like most natural or medicinal remedies, it is best to observe limitations.
Nigella seeds used in cooking has not showed any negative side effects.
However it is advisable to check with your doctor before using them as a natural treatment for health ailments.
It is suggested to limit the intact of nigella seeds or black seed oil for such purposes no more than 3 months.
Those suffering from kidney problems should surely take prior advise.
Where to buy nigella seeds
You can buy nigella seeds or black seeds from any ethnic Indian store or health food store.
If its convenience that you are looking for buy nigella seeds directly online.
Few tips to remember when buying nigella seeds is to buy them in small quantity as a little goes a long way.
Also make sure to check the pack. The seeds should all be black and round without any grey bits.
Below is a recommended brand that you can buy online.
How to store nigella seeds
If the product does not already come in an air tight container, then store black seeds in an opaque or glass airtight container away from direct light or heat.
Make sure the area is cool and dry.
Being a strong aromatic spice, ensure that the lid is tightly closed to retain the freshness of the spice.
If stored well, nigella seeds will keep the flavour well for a year or even more.
Nigella seeds, black seeds, kalonji whatever you refer them as is a power house of nutrients.
The woody smoky taste adds a unique aroma to the dish.
Given the many health benefits, the aromatic property and ease of use in cooking, I highly recommend you to add this spice to your culinary repertoire.