What is Caraway?
Caraway is a native to Northern Africa, the Mediterranean and much of Europe. It falls into both categories of herb and spice, as it is the seeds that are used primarily, but if you grow it yourself , the leaves and the root are also edible. Caraway has been found in food dating back to 3000 BC making it one of the oldest cultivated spices. The Ancient Egyptians buried their dead with caraway to ward off evil spirits. It was also used as a food and a medicine in Ancient Greece and Rome. A Greek physician, Dioscorides prescribed oil of caraway to young ladies to rub into their skin and restore a healthy glow.
Julius Caesar’s army ate a bread made of caraway root (chara). During the middle ages the use of caraway spread up from the Arabian pensinsula and into Northern Europe. Old herbal legends describe caraway’s power to keep things from getting lost or stolen. It was used in an ancient love potion, and it was also believed that if you tucked some into your possesions they would be protected from theft. As well it is known to be attractive to fowl and is used to keep chickens and pigeons from straying
Caraway is a biennial that takes two years for full life cycle, after it produces seeds it dies off. It can reach a height of 30-80cm with foliage that is frilly like the foliage of carrots. It has a thick root, similar to a parsnip and hollow fluted stems. The clusters of small flowers can be white, yellow or green. It is an easily grown plant that prefers a well drained soil and a sunny spot. After it flowers, the seed produced are brownish in colour, are ribbed and slightly cresent shaped. It resembles cumin and the two are often confused in Asia. It is commercially cultivated all over Europe as well as in Turkey, India and North African. Dutch caraway is considered to be of high quality and Holland is one of the largest producers.
Cooking with Caraway Seeds
Caraway seeds can hold their flavor for months stored in airtight containers and kept away from light. It is suggested to add seeds after a dish is cooked, as a long simmer may turn the flavour bitter. It has a sweet warm aroma with a flavour similar to aniseed and fennel. It figures prominently in the cuisines of Germany, Austria, eastern Europe and Scandinavia. It seems to have a special affinity for apples, pork and sausages.The spice seems to counter act the fattiness of pork, duck and goose. It is an essential taste in sauerbraten, sauerkraut and rye bread. Smoked and skimmed milk cheeses from Austria, Germany, Hungary Holland and Scandinavia contain whole seed. There are medieval recipes for caraway flavoured cheese that are still in use today. (Dutch cheese).
There are many liquers are flavoured with caraway (Kummel, Akuavit gins and Schnapps). It can also be used in cakes cookies, soups, omelets, rice and pasta dishes, cheese spreads and vegetable dishes. In Elizabethan times it was used to flavour bread, cakes and fruit, particularly apples. It was popular with english tea in a seedcake, similar to a pound cake served warm with butter. Caraway seeds were customarily chewed to freshen breath. The essential oil extracted from caraway is used to flavour liquers, mouthwashes, toothpastes and chewing gums. It is also an important addition to Tunisian harissa and some blends of garam masala
Health Benefits of Caraway
The primary medical benefit of caraway is its effect on digestion. It is a carminative which means it helps with gas and digestion. It is helpful to chew caraway seeds after a heavy meal. It has been used for colic as it is a light sedative and it can be used to settle a queasy stomach (antispasmodic).
carvies (Scottish), wild cumin, Roman cumin, Persian caraway