Ajwain is a popular spice in India, where both fruits and leaves of this pungent plant in the parsley family are used. The small, hard, oval, pale brown fruits (often mistakenly called seeds) are grayish and resemble cumin or caraway in shape. Slightly bitter and pungent, ajwain has a musty character somewhere between anise and oregano. Often confused with lovage seed, ajwain is reminiscent of a more aromatic and less subtle thyme because both contain the essential oil thymol.
Ajwain is thought to have originated in the eastern Mediterranean, perhaps in Egypt, and then traveled to India with the Greek conquest of central Asia. Today it’s mainly cultivated in Iran and northern India and also commonly used in Egypt and Afghanistan. Ajwain is rarely used raw; it’s either dry-roasted or fried in ghee (clarified butter) so it develops a more subtle and complex aroma, similar to caraway but brighter. In India, lentils are commonly flavoured with an aromatic butter, called tadka, that often contains ajwain. Ajwain is said to reduce the gaseous effects of beans and other legumes.
- Other Names
- Ajowan (English, French, Italian, Spanish); ajvain, carom, or omum (Hindi); ajwan; bishop’s weed; adiowan, Indischer kummel, or königskümmel (German); kamun al-muluki or taleb el koubs (Arabic); nanavva or zenian (Farsi); netch azmud (Amharic).
- Purchase whole seeds from an Indian, Iranian, or Pakistani grocery, where the turnover will be greatest.
Note: Use raw ajwain seeds judiciously, because even a small amount can overpower other flavours.
Toast ajwain seeds and add to vegetable curries or steamed cabbage, carrots, potato, or pumpkin.
Cook ajwain in butter or oil and add to slow-cooked dishes for a thyme flavour.
Toast ajwain and add to savoury biscuits and Indian breads.
Category: Spices and Herbs
Sub Category: Spice
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