Carom seeds

Ajwain, also known as carom, ajowan, omam, omum, ajvain or Bishop’s weed (depending on where in the world we’re talking) is a spice belonging to the Umbelliferae (or Apiaceae) family, some of whose other members are cumin, dill and caraway. The ajwain plant’s shrubs appear feather-like, and the plant itself grows very quickly, reaching up to 3ft in height.

Both the seeds and leaves can be used for cooking, although the seeds are eaten more commonly. They are oval-shaped, striped and vary from slightly green/khaki to brown in colour, looking like a smaller version of cumin seeds to some.

I would guess that most of us haven’t heard of ajwain, considering it can be viewed as the little, less known brother of thyme and oregano. Both ajwain and thyme contain thymol, which gives the spices a similar and powerful scent, although ajwain is often described as having a stronger aroma.. The taste, however, is more comparable to oregano, due to its pungent first impression, sharp flavour and underlying bitterness. The aftertaste seems more sweet, reminiscent of anise.

Cooking with Ajwain

If you want to add a kick to your dish, ajwain is the way to go! It goes well with a variety of foods, such as curries, lentil soups and root vegetables. It is most frequently used in pastries and bread such as parathas, a flatbread native to India. Very commonly, it is also found as an ingredient in tarkas (a mixture of spices that is cooked before being added to the dish in order to enhance their flavours). Due to its similarity to spices like thyme and oregano, it can be used in a lot of the same ways.

Ajwain’s bitter and pungent taste is very unique but can also be very overpowering. It will definitely retain its own distinctive note when added with other spices. That said, it should be used sparingly, since its dominance can subdue the flavour of other ingredients. Hence, when cooking with it, it should be added little by little in order to maintain a balance. Cooking the seeds for a while mellows out the bitterness and increases the milder aftertaste.

Other benefits of Ajwain

Apart from enhancing the taste of various kinds of dishes, ajwain is used for numerous other purposes. The spice can be found in toothpaste and perfumes, and mixed with mustard oil, it acts as a powerful mosquito repellent. In India, the raw seeds are often chewed as a mouth freshener.

Hardly any other spice can boast with as many health and cosmetic benefits as ajwain. It has had a place in the Indian herbal medicine practice (Ayurveda) since ancient times.

Its high thymol content, which acts as powerful fungicide and germicide, is said to have a hand in lowering blood pressure, and made into an essential oil, ajwain can relieve tooth, ear and rheumatic pain if applied to affected areas. The spice helps with digestion, colds, diarrhea, asthma and even aids with symptoms of arthritis. In addition, ajwain helps with irregular menstrual cycles and excessive bleeding, and was used as an antiseptic in surgery a long time ago – and can still be applied for the purpose of cleaning wounds and cuts.