Online Encyclopedia

CUMIN, or C UUMIN (Cuminum Cyminum)

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Originally appearing in Volume V07, Page 628 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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CUMIN, or C UUMIN (Cuminum Cyminum), an annual herbaceous plant, a member of the natural order Umbelliferae and probably a native of some part of western Asia, but scarcely known at the present time in a wild state. It was early cultivated in Arabia, India and China, and in the countries bordering the Mediterranean. Its stem is slender and branching, and about a foot in height; the leaves are deeply cut, with filiform segments; the flowers are small and white. The fruits, the so-called seeds, which constitute the cumin of pharmacy, are fusiform or ovoid in shape and compressed laterally; they are two lines long, are hotter to the taste, lighter in colour, and larger than caraway seeds, and have on each half nine fine ridges, overlying as many oil-channels or vittae. Their strong aromatic smell and warm bitterish taste are due to the presence of about 3% of an essential oil. The tissue of the seeds contains a fatty oil, with resin, mucilage and gum, malates and albuminous matter; and in the pericarp there is much tannin. The volatile oil of cumin, which may be separated by distillation of the seed with water, is mainly a • mixture of cymol or cymene, C1oH14, and cumic aldehyde, C6H4(C3H7)COH. Cumin is mentioned in Isaiah xxviii. 25, 27, and Matthew xxiii. 23, and in the works of Hippocrates and Dioscorides. From Pliny we learn that the ancients took the ground seed medicinally with bread, water or wine, and that it was accounted the best of condiments as a remedy for squeamishness. It was found to occasion pallor of the face, whence the expression of Horace, exsangue cuminum (Epist. i. 19), and that of Persius, pallentis gran cumini (Sat. v. 55). Pliny relates the story that it was employed by the followers of Porcius Latro, the celebrated rhetorician, in order to produce a complexion such as bespeaks application to study (xx. 57). In the middle ages cumin was one of the commonest spices of European growth. Its average price per pound in England in the 13th and 14th centuries was ad. or, at present value, about Is. 4d. (Rogers, Hist. of Agric. and Prices, i. 631). It is stimulant and carminative, and is employed in the manufacture of curry powder. The medicinal use of the drug is now confined to veterinary practice. Cumin is exported from India, Mogador, Malta and Sicily.
End of Article: CUMIN, or C UUMIN (Cuminum Cyminum)
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