Cumin is a spice that comes from the Cuminum cyminum plant. It is native to Asia, Africa, and Europe. However, people all around the world use it to flavor meals.

People usually buy cumin in the form of whole dried seeds or as ground powder. It is a typical ingredient in many spice blends, such as curry powder. Cumin is a staple spice in many food cultures, particularly Mexican, Indian, African, and Asian cuisine.

Aside from this, cumin has also played a medicinal role in many parts of the world, including Southeast Asia and Iran, for some years.

People's interest in cumin has recently been growing, as newer research is starting to support some of its alleged health benefits.

In this article, we explain the potential health benefits and risks of cumin, as well as how to add this popular spice to the diet.

Research seems to support the following benefits of cumin:

1. Weight loss

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Cumin may be beneficial for people trying to lose weight.

Cumin may be helpful for people trying to their manage body weight. A 2015 study involving adults with overweight compared the weight loss effects of cumin with those of a weight loss medication and a placebo.

After 8 weeks, the researchers found that both the cumin and the weight loss medication groups lost significant amounts of weight. People in the cumin group also experienced a decrease in insulin levels.

Another study from 2014 found that women with overweight and obesity who consumed 3 grams (g) of cumin powder in yogurt every day for 3 months had significant decreases in body weight, waist size, and body fat.

2. Cholesterol

The aforementioned study involving women with overweight and obesity also found that consuming 3 g of cumin powder per day resulted in lower levels of total cholesterol, lower low-density lipoprotein, or "bad," cholesterol, and triglycerides.

Those who consumed the cumin powder also had higher levels of high-density lipoprotein, or "good," cholesterol.

3. Diabetes

A 2017 study in adults with type 2 diabetes looked at the effects of cumin essential oil on blood sugar levels. Study participants received either 100 milligrams (mg) of cumin oil per day, 50 mg of cumin oil per day, or a placebo.

After 8 weeks, both cumin oil groups had significantly reduced blood sugar, insulin, and hemoglobin A1c levels. These are all markers of good diabetes management.

The cumin oil groups also saw improvements in signs of insulin resistance and inflammation.

However, other human studies using black cumin seeds have shown mixed results, according to a 2017 review of studies. More research is necessary to confirm the benefits of cumin essential oil for those with diabetes.

4. Irritable bowel syndrome

A small pilot study from 2013 looked at the effects of consuming cumin essential oil drops on the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

After 4 weeks, study participants noted improvements in many symptoms, such as stomach pain and bloating.

At the end of the study, those with IBS who had mainly experienced constipation had more frequent bowel movements. Those who had mainly experienced diarrhea as a symptom had fewer bowel movements.

5. Stress

Cumin may play a role in helping the body handle stress. A study in rats looked at the effects of cumin extract on signs of stress.

When the animals received cumin extract before a stressful activity, their bodies had a significantly lower stress response than when they did not receive the extract.

Cumin may help fight the effects of stress by working as an antioxidant. The same researchers found that cumin was a more effective antioxidant than vitamin C in the rats they studied.

6. Memory loss

The same study in rats also looked at the impact of cumin extract on memory. The study found that the animals who received cumin extract had a better and faster recall.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture's FoodData Central Database, one teaspoon of whole cumin seeds contains:

The same amount of cumin seeds also provides 19.6 mg of calcium, 1.39 mg of iron, and 7.69 mg of magnesium.

Cumin also contains antioxidants, which may be responsible for some of its associated benefits.

Cooking and eating foods with cumin is likely to be safe for most people. Some people might have an allergy to cumin, however, in which case they should avoid it.

More research is needed before doctors can recommend supplemental dosages of cumin. In one 2013 study, some people experienced nausea, dizziness, and stomach pain after consuming cumin extract.

As with all supplements, people should tell their healthcare provider what they are taking. Many supplements may impact how certain prescription medications work.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not monitor supplements for quality or purity. Therefore, it is important to research different brands and find the safest options.

People with diabetes, especially those who take medication for diabetes, should use cumin supplements with caution, since it may change their blood sugar levels.

Cumin is a common ingredient in many savory dishes from around the world. It adds a warm flavor and works especially well in soups, stews, and curries.

People can also use this spice to season vegetables or meats before roasting.

See below for links to tasty recipes that contain cumin:

Cumin may have the potential for use in addressing a variety of health conditions. For example, in addition to the health benefits listed above, research has shown that cumin may boost the immune system and help fight certain types of bacterial and fungal infections.

Animal studies have also suggested that cumin may help prevent some types of cancer.

More research is necessary, especially in humans. However, cumin seems to have promise in the medical world. Researchers are yet to work out the best form of supplement and ideal dosage.

For now, it is most healthful to enjoy cumin in meals rather than as a supplement.

Q:

Can I use cumin in desserts?

A:

Although cumin is more commonly used to season savory dishes, people can use this healthful spice in sweet recipes, as well.

For example, the smoky flavor of cumin pairs well with chocolate and can work in chocolatey recipes including mousse, fudge, and cakes. People can also mix cumin with other tasty spices, such as cinnamon and cloves, to give an interesting kick to fruity desserts such as baked apples or pears.

Also, don’t be afraid to experiment with cumin when making desserts. That said, since cumin has a strong flavor, start slow and only add small amounts to avoid going overboard.

Jillian Kubala, MS, RD Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.