Scientific Name(s): Cuminum cyminum L.
Common Name(s): Cumin, Cummin
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on May 1, 2021.
Cumin seeds are used in cooking, and the oil is used to flavor food and scent cosmetics. Cumin has been investigated for its hypoglycemic, antioxidant, and lipid profile effects. However, with the exception of evidence of improved lipid profiles, clinical evidence supporting other uses is lacking. Cumin is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) for human consumption when used as a spice and flavoring.
Cumin powder 3 g/day (1.5 g twice daily [ie, with lunch and dinner]) was used to evaluate effects on lipid profiles and body composition parameters in a study of women who were overweight/obese. Essential oil of C. cyminum L. administered at 300 mg/day for 8 weeks was used to evaluate effects on weight loss and metabolic profiles in Iranian adults who were overweight.
Contraindications have not been identified.
Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
None well documented.
Cumin oil may have photosensitizing effects. Cumin may cause hypoglycemia.
- Apiaceae (carrot)
Cumin is a small annual plant native to the Mediterranean region, where it is extensively cultivated. The dried seeds resemble those of caraway, but are straighter in form and have a coarser taste and odor.(Evans 1989) Major cumin seed producers include Egypt, Iran, India, and Morocco.(Leung 1980) The United States is one of the largest producers of cumin oil.
This spice should not be confused with sweet cumin, which is a common name for anise (Pimpinella anisum). Black cumin (Bunium persicum) has smaller and sweeter seeds than C. cyminum, but is not commercially important. Nigella sativa (a separate black cumin species) is not related to cumin.(Simon 1984) Cumin should also not be confused with curcumin (Curcuma longa L.). Synonyms are Cuminum odorum Salisb, Cuminia cyminum J.F. Gmel, Cuminum hispanicum Bunge, and Ligusticum cuminum (L.) Crantz.(USDA 2021)
Cumin has traditionally been used for its anti-inflammatory, diuretic, carminative, and antispasmodic effects. It has also been used as an aid for treating dyspepsia, jaundice, diarrhea, flatulence, and indigestion. In Iran, historical uses include for the treatment of toothaches and epilepsy.(Janahmadi 2006) Cumin powder has been used as a poultice and as a suppository, has been taken orally, and has been smoked in a pipe.(Dhandapani 2002, Gagandeep 2003, Ishikawa 2002, Platel 2004, Platel 2000, Srivastava 1989) Cumin seed is widely used in cooking. It is a major component of curry and chili powders and is used to flavor a variety of commercial food products.(Leung 1980) It has also been crushed and mixed with foods such as fish and meat, and the seeds have been sprinkled on bread and cakes.(Duke 2008) The oil, derived by steam distillation,(Simon 1984) is used to flavor alcoholic beverages, desserts, and condiments. Cumin oil is also used as a fragrant component of creams, lotions, and perfumes.(Leung 1980)
Cumin seeds contain up to 5% of a volatile oil composed primarily of aldehydes (up to 60%). In addition, the seeds yield about 22% fats, numerous free amino acids, and a variety of flavonoid glycosides, including derivatives of apigenin and luteolin.(Gagandeep 2003, Ishikawa 2002, Kitajima 2003, Leung 1980, Takayanagi 2003) The cuminaldehyde content varies considerably, depending on the source of the oil (fresh vs ground seeds). Fine grinding of the seed can result in the loss of up to 50% of the volatile oil,(Leung 1980) with the greatest loss occurring within 1 hour of milling. Monoterpene hydrocarbons are another major component of the oil; sesquiterpenes are minor constituents.(Gagandeep 2003, Takayanagi 2003) The chief components of the characteristic aroma of unheated whole seeds are 3p-menthen-7al and cuminaldehyde in combination with other related aldehydes. Cumin also contains safrole, a mutagen, which is degraded by cooking.(Al-Bataina 2003)
Uses and Pharmacology
Cumin has GRAS status when used as a spice and flavoring.(Simon 1984)
In vitro data
Cumin extract inhibited arachidonate-induced platelet aggregation in human platelets in a dose-dependent manner.(Srivastava 1989)
Animal and in vitro data
Cumin oil and cuminaldehyde have exhibited strong larvicidal and antibacterial activity. At in vitro concentrations of 300 or 600 ppm, cumin oil inhibited the growth of Lactobacillus plantarum.(Kivanç 1991) Cumin essential oil demonstrated activity comparable with standard antibiotics against common human pathogens in in vitro experiments(Singh 2002) and against gram-negative and gram-positive plant pathogens.(Derakhshan 2008, Iacobellis 2005) Cumin seed essential oil has demonstrated in vitro antifungal activity against Candida albicans.
Biocompatibility of a formulation of cumin seed essential oils was tested in female rabbits, followed by clinical evaluation in a pilot study of 30 women with vulvovaginal candidiasis. Clinical results with coated suppositories showed significant improvement in symptoms (vaginal itching, discharge, dyspareunia) and reduced infection compared to placebo.(Abd Ellah 2021)
In garden snails, extracellular application of the essential oil of C. cyminum 1% and 3% dramatically reduced epileptic activity induced by pentylenetetrazol. The oil decreased the firing rate of F1 neuronal cells, which caused a significant depolarization in the resting membrane potential (P<0.05), reduced the amplitude of after hyperpolarization potential, and increased duration (P<0.05).(Janahmadi 2006)
Cumin seeds contain flavonoids, many of which are generally recognized to have antioxidant activity.
Animal and in vitro data
In studies in mice, cumin seed elevated levels of glutathione and stimulated other antioxidant systems.(Gagandeep 2003) The petroleum ether soluble fraction of cumin has shown antioxidant activity when mixed with lard.(Leung 1980) Conflicting evidence exists regarding inhibition of hepatic peroxidation.(Gagandeep 2003, Reddy 1992) However, cuminaldehyde has demonstrated ability to scavenge the superoxide anion.(Krishnakantha 1993)
In a double-blind, randomized, controlled trial (N=78) in overweight Iranian adults (BMI greater than 25), cumin (300 mg/day of essential oil), orlistat (360 mg/day), and placebo for 8 weeks were compared for effects on biomarkers of oxidative stress as well as weight loss and metabolic profiles. Compared with placebo or orlistat, cumin supplementation provided no effect on oxidative stress as measured by total plasma glutathione.(Taghizadeh 2015)
In mice, cumin seeds inhibited the induction of gastric squamous cell carcinomas.(Aruna 1992, Gagandeep 2003) Cumin also demonstrated a protective effect against induced colonic cancer in rats. Decreased beta-glucuronidase and mucinase activity was evident, and the rats had fewer papillae, no infiltration into the submucosa, and fewer morphological changes.(Nalini 1998) Cumin seeds were not carcinogenic when tested by the reverse mutation Salmonella typhimurium (TA100) test, but demonstrated very weak oxidative mutagenicity with strain TA102.(Al-Bataina 2003, Sivaswamy 1991)
C. cyminum essential oil may inhibit supragingival dental plaque via antimicrobial effects and prevent biofilm formation prevention. Its bactericidal properties are believed to be due to the monoterpene constituents pinene and cineole.(Shayegh 2008)
Cumin, given at a level 5 times higher than the usual culinary intake, did not reduce serum or liver cholesterol levels in a study of rats fed a hypercholesterolemic diet.(Sambaiah 1991)
In a single-blind, randomized, controlled trial (N=100), 3 g/day of cumin powder (1.5 g twice daily) significantly improved lipid and most body composition parameters compared with control in overweight/obese women (BMI greater than 25) who were 20 to 60 years of age. Patients consumed 150 mL of low-fat yogurt (control) or yogurt plus cumin at lunch and dinner for 3 months; all patients received regular nutrition counselling during the 3-month study. Although body weight, BMI, waist circumference, fat mass index, and percentage of fat mass improved significantly in both groups (P≥0.005 for all vs baseline), the improvements were more significant in the cumin group (P≥0.005 for all vs control). In contrast, significant improvements in lipid parameters were seen only in the cumin group and not with control. Mean change in triglycerides was −23.06 mg/dL in the group receiving cumin and −5.04 mg/dL with control (P=0.02); mean change in cholesterol was −26.48 mg/dL and −0.88 mg/dL, respectively (P<0.005); mean change in LDL was −9.62 mg/dL and 0.44 mg/dL, respectively (P=0.001); and mean change in HDL was 1.84 mg/dL and −0.82 mg/dL, respectively (P=0.049). Cumin allergy leading to study discontinuation occurred in 3 patients in the intervention group.(Zare 2014) A double-blind, randomized, controlled trial in 78 overweight Iranian adults (BMI greater than 25) compared cumin (300 mg/day essential oil), orlistat (360 mg/day), and placebo for 8 weeks to assess effects on weight loss, metabolic profiles, and biomarkers of oxidative stress. Cumin supplementation provided an effect equal to that of orlistat for improvements in weight and BMI, which was better than placebo. Cumin had no effect on lipid profiles (eg, total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, triglycerides) compared to orlistat or placebo.(Taghizadeh 2015)
A meta‐analysis of 6 randomized controlled trials in adults (N=376) evaluated the effects of cumin supplementation on plasma lipid concentrations. Significant reductions in plasma concentrations of total cholesterol (mean difference [MD], −10.9 mg/dL [95% CI, −21.39 to −0.42]; P=0.042) and LDL-C (MD, −6.94 mg/dL [95% CI, −11.53 to −2.35]; P=0.003) were observed following supplementation with cumin compared with control treatment, and plasma HDL-C concentration was increased (MD, 3.35 mg/dL [95% CI, 1.58 to 5.12]; P˂0.001 vs control). The analysis indicated that cumin supplementation has no effect on triglyceride concentration.(Hadi 2018)
A small-scale clinical trial of dysmenorrheic subjects (N=31) showed that those receiving cumin 3 g/day for 3 days of each consecutive cycle (n=10) exhibited a reduction in systemic responses such as cold sweats, backache, fatigue, and cramps.(Omidvar 2019)
Enzyme stimulatory effects
Animal and in vitro data
Stimulation of bile acid secretion and pancreatic enzymes has been demonstrated in rats given a continuous intake of dietary cumin. Variable results were obtained with a single dose of cumin.(Platel 2004, Platel 2000, Ramakrishna 2003) An aqueous extract of cumin inhibited rat jejunal ATPase in an in vitro experiment.(Kreydiyyeh 2000)
In studies conducted in rats with induced diabetes, cumin reduced blood glucose levels.(Roman-Ramos 1995, Talpur 2005) One suggested mechanism for this reduction is inhibition of aldose reductase and alpha-glucosidase.(Lee 2005) In another study in diabetic rats, C. cyminum for 6 weeks resulted in a significant reduction in blood glucose and an increase in total hemoglobin and glycosylated hemoglobin; in addition, reductions in plasma and tissue cholesterol, phospholipids, free fatty acids, and triglycerides (secondary to diabetes) were demonstrated.(Dhandapani 2002)
A 1991 study suggested that cumin seeds may be beneficial in treating patients with diabetes.(Karnic 1991, Srinivasan 2005) However, there is limited information to support this finding. A double-blind, randomized, controlled trial in 78 Iranian adults who were overweight (BMI greater than 25) compared cumin (300 mg/day of essential oil), orlistat (360 mg/day), and placebo for 8 weeks to assess effects on weight loss, metabolic profiles, and biomarkers of oxidative stress. Compared with orlistat and placebo, cumin supplementation led to improvements in serum insulin levels, beta-cell function, and insulin sensitivity but not in fasting plasma glucose or insulin resistance measures.(Taghizadeh 2015)
Effects of cumin supplementation on metabolic profiles in patients with metabolic syndrome (N=56; age range, 18 to 60 years) were investigated in a randomized, triple-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Effects on inflammatory and antioxidant status were assessed after administration of either 75 mg of C. cyminum L. essential oil or placebo soft gel 3 times daily for 8 weeks. Results indicated that C. cyminum L. essential oil supplementation can improve some antioxidative indices, such as superoxide dismutase and total antioxidant capacity, while decreasing malondialdehyde in patients with metabolic syndrome.(Morovati 2019)
Cumin may delay the development of cataracts, as demonstrated in diabetic rats. An aqueous extract of cumin delayed progression and maturation of streptozotocin-induced cataracts in rats by preventing glycation of total soluble protein and alpha-crystallin in the lenses.(Kumar 2009)
Cumin is recognized as a phytoestrogen-rich plant containing estrogenic components, such as beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol, and the flavonoids luteolin and apigenin. Cumin may serve as a potential treatment option in estrogen-related conditions such as postmenopausal osteoporosis.
A study was conducted using 40 adult Sprague-Dawley rats, of which 30 underwent bilateral ovariectomies and 10 underwent a sham operation. The sham group (n=10) and ovariectomy control group (n=10) received a vehicle while the other 2 ovariectomy groups (n=10 each) received estradiol 0.15 mg/kg and 1 g/kg of a methanolic extract of C. cyminum fruits in 2 divided doses for a period of 10 weeks. Administration of the extract was associated with reduced urinary calcium excretion and increased calcium content compared with the ovariectomy control group. Additionally, the C. cyminum extract was associated with greater bone density upon SEM analysis, although the difference was not statistically significant.(Shirke 2008)
Cumin powder 3 g/day (1.5 g twice daily [ie, with lunch and dinner]) was used to evaluate effects on lipid profiles and body composition parameters in a study of women who were overweight/obese.(Zare 2014) Essential oil of C. cyminum L. administered at 300 mg/day for 8 weeks was used to evaluate effects on weight loss and metabolic profiles in Iranian adults who were overweight.(Taghizadeh 2015)
Pregnancy / Lactation
Information regarding safety and efficacy in pregnancy and lactation is lacking.
In rat plasma, an aqueous extract from cumin seeds enhanced rifampin levels. Specifically, the maximum plasma concentration of rifampin was increased by 35% and the area under the curve increased by 53%, probably caused by the flavonoid glycoside 3′,5-dihydroxyflavone 7-O-beta-D-galacturonide 4′-O-beta-D-glucopyranoside.(Sachin 2007)
Cumin has demonstrated blood glucose–lowering properties in rats and could theoretically cause hypoglycemia. Individuals with diabetes who are receiving an oral hypoglycemic agent and insulin should use caution when coadministering cumin.(Karnic 1991, Lee 2005, Roman-Ramos 1995, Srinivasan 2005, Talpur 2005)
Cumin oil components are absorbed rapidly through shaved intact abdominal mouse skin. Undiluted cumin oil has phototoxic effects that are not related to cuminaldehyde, but to another photosensitizing component.(Leung 1980) Cumin has demonstrated blood glucose–lowering properties in rats and could theoretically cause hypoglycemia.(Karnic 1991, Lee 2005, Roman-Ramos 1995, Srinivasan 2005, Talpur 2005)
- Cuminia cyminum J.F. Gmel
- Cuminum hispanicum Bunge
- Cuminum odorum Salisb
- Ligusticum cuminum (L.) Crantz
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