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Great Facts and Benefits of Cumin

By Jane Butel  January 5, 2022

I thought I would start off the new year with good to know facts, history and tips about  herbs and spices popularly used in Southwestern and Mexican Regional cooking.  Cumin came to mind first and is a very ancient herb, being found in the Middle East  in long ago archeological digs as old as 6000 BC.  It was popular for many uses beyond seasoning food.  The ancient Egyptians even used it as an embalming ingredient.

Cumin is both strong and fragile.  Strong and intense in flavor and the prominent aroma in curry powder and Southwestern chili.  The fragility comes from the fact that the intense and wonderful aroma ages out if not stored properly.  The very best is to store it in glass containers and refrigerate or freeze them.  When stale, cumin becomes bitter and looses its characteristic  flavor.  If you have any cumin that is not robust and aromatic, discard it.  Using more to make it more intense just makes the food very bitter and unappealing.

When cooking with cumin, always add half the cumin a recipe calls for when cooking it and the balance just before serving.  Even if you are doing batch cooking such as for chili, cook with one half and note that on the packaging so that the remaining proportionate amount is used  when heated for serving.

Quick facts about cumin are--

May improve blood cholesterol

May help with weight loss 

Promotes digestion

Rich source of iron

The ancients are said to have a container of cumin on the table along with salt and pepper.  The only country where that is still a custom is Morocco.

Cumin is a member of the parsley family and the seeds look a great deal like caraway  seeds, but have a very different flavor.  

Cumin seeds are the seed  of the herb cuminum and are hand harvested.

To start the year off with a healthy boost from cumin, I am offering our 2 and 4 ounce bags of cumin at 25% off through Sunday, January 9, 2022. 

Our Red and Green Chile Favorites class is sold out for this Thursday, January 6, however there is a second one  set for January 20 at 5 PM.  Our next  classes are listed on our calendar and we do have openings in all of them--day classes, weekend classes and week long classes.

Cumin is prominent i n all chilies and also posole.  I am sharing my favorite Bowl o Red and Posole recipes--


The influence behind this recipe came from my maternal grandfather, who was in charge of the line extensions going west from Topeka, Kansas.  While working with the Santa Fe Railroad, he was stationed a long time in Dodge City, KS which was the end of trail for the cattle drives.  He developed this recipe after commiserating with lots of “cookies,” or trail cooks who cooked for the cowboys bringing cattle up from Texas and Northern Mexico.  It has won numerous chili cook-offs and is one of the really true original chilis. I like to gussy it up with side dishes of Fixin’s ‘n Mixin’s of chopped onion, pickled jalapenos, mixed grated cheddar and Jack cheeses, sour cream garnished with lime wedges edged in powdered mild red chile and a bowl of pequin quebrado minced Habeneros for those who like it red hot! 

Yield:  6 to 8 servings 

  • 2 Tablespoons lard, butter, bacon drippings, or rendered beef fat
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 3 pounds lean beef, cut into ½-inch cubes
  • 3 medium-sized garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup pure ground hot chile or to taste
  • 1/4 cup pure ground mild chile
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin, divided
  • About 3 cups water
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt 

1. Melt the lard in a large heavy pot with a flat bottom and straight sides over medium heat.  Add onion and cook until softened.  Remove from heat. 

2. Add meat, garlic, ground chiles and ½ the cumin to the pot.  Break up any lumps.  Stir in the water and salt.  Return to heat.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, 2-1/2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally, until the meat is very tender and the flavors are well blended. NEVER COVER.  Placing a lid on a stew such as this will steam the meat, toughening it, rather than allowing it to break down and become quite tender.   Add more water if necessary.  Taste and adjust seasonings, adding remaining cumin. Serve with fixin’s ‘n mixin’s as noted above.




You may serve this either as a side dish or main dish. I like to layer toppings such as fresh shredded cabbage, fresh lime wedges, avocado cubes and cilantro sprigs.

Yield: 15 to 16 servings

1 pound dried posole

1 quart water, or more

2 pounds pork, steak or roast, cut into ½” cubes

1 Tablespoon salt or to taste

2 garlic cloves, minced

pinch of Mexican oregano

1 Tablespoon cumin, or to taste, divided

¼ cup caribe chile or to taste

       1. Simmer the posole in unseasoned water until it becomes soft and the kernels have burst open; it usually requires 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

       2. Brown the pork cubee in a cold, well-seasoned frying pan; adding no fat or oil to the pan. Saute until very browned, then add to the posole. Deglaze the frying pan with 1 cup water, stirring to loosen the brownies sticking to the pan. Also add this liquid to the posole.

       3. Add remaining ingredients, using one-half the cumin and cook the stew for 1 or more hours, to blend the flavors. Just before serving, add the remaining half of cumin. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Ideally, this dish should be started the morning before it is to be served, to allow the flavors to develop.

Notes: In Old Mexico the following toppings are often served and posole is a main dish:

2 cups thinly shredded fresh cabbage

2 limes, cut into wedges

1 avocado, pitted, peeled and cut into cubes

1 bunch cilantro sprigs

In Mexico, posole is often spelled with a  "z"instead of an s.

This recipe reprinted with permission from Jane Butel's Chili Madness, 2nd edition.




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