Also called comino, this ancient spice dates back to the Old Testament. Shaped like a caraway seed, cumin is the dried fruit of a plant in the parsley family. Its aromatic nutty-flavored seeds come in three colors: amber (the most widely available), white and black (both found in Asian markets). White cumin seed is interchangeable with amber, but the black seed has a more complex, peppery flavor. Cumin is available in seed and ground forms. As with all seeds, herbs and spices, it should be stored in a cool, dark place for no more than six months. Cumin is particularly popular in Middle Eastern, Asian and Mediterranean cooking. Among other things, it's used to make curries, chili powders and kümmel liqueur.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.