The nutty, slightly sweet and bitter flavor of nigella is part of Middle Eastern and Asian cuisine and is a popular addition to flatbread dough.
Nigella as a Spice
Nigella has as many flavor nuances as it does names. The spice is also known as black caraway, black cumin and onion seeds and is used to flavor dishes in the Middle East, Persia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. Nutty, slightly hot and a little sweet and bitter, the taste of these seeds has nuances of roasted nuts, oregano thyme and pepper. Nigella is mentioned in the Old Testament by the Prophet Muhammad — its Arabic name “Habba el Baraka” (blessed seeds) is a reference to this. A spice commonly used in Middle Eastern flatbread, nigella is currently enjoying a boost in popularity in Europe.
Nigella is ideal for use in Middle Eastern and Asian dishes and is used to flavor flatbreads such as Indian naan bread, pickled vegetables, sauces, (sheep’s) cheese, curries, and dishes containing eggplant, squash, root vegetables and legumes. To enhance the flavor of nigella, heat the seeds in a dry pan or with hot oil before use. Nigella is completely flavorless whole — the seeds only release their characteristic flavor when ground or chewed. The spice is often included in Asian, Arabic or African seasoning mixes, for example in Indian “Panch Phoron” (five spice blend).
The flavors of nigella and sesame complement each other perfectly. This combination is ideal for baked goods, giving them a wonderfully aromatic flavor.
Despite the various names nigella goes by, it is not related to caraway or cumin, though it is often confused with these spices. Nigella belongs to the buttercup family and has the same botanical lineage as the poppy. The annual plant grows to around one meter tall. It has gray-green, pinnate leaves and white-blue flowers. The matt-black, drop-shaped seeds found in the seed pod are used as a spice. “Devil in the bush” is sometimes used to refer to decorative species of the plant. The main countries that produce nigella are India, Turkey and Egypt.
- Scientific Name
- Nigella sativa L.
- Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae)
- Other Names
- Black cumin, black caraway, onion seeds
- West Asia, Southern Europe, Middle East