Nigella sativa (black caraway, also known as black cumin, nigella, kalojeera, kalonji or kalanji) is an annual flowering plant in the family Ranunculaceae, native to a large region of the eastern Mediterranean, northern Africa, the Indian Subcontinent, and West Asia.
N. sativa grows to 20–30 cm (7.9–11.8 in) tall, with finely divided, linear (but not thread-like) leaves. The flowers are delicate, and usually colored pale blue and white, with five to ten petals. The fruit is a large and inflated capsule composed of three to seven united follicles, each containing numerous seeds which are used as spice, sometimes as a replacement for black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum).
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration classifies Nigella sativa L. (black cumin, black caraway) as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for use as a spice, natural seasoning, or flavoring. The seeds of N. sativa are used as a spice in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, and also in Polish cuisine. The black seeds taste like a combination of onions, black pepper, and oregano. They have a pungent, bitter taste and smell. In Palestine, the seeds are ground to make bitter qizha paste.
The dry-roasted seeds flavor curries, vegetables, and pulses. They can be used as a seasoning in recipes with pod fruit, vegetables, salads, and poultry. In some cultures, the black seeds are used to flavor bread products, and are used as part of the spice mixture panch phoron (meaning a mixture of five spices) and alone in many recipes in Bengali cuisine and most recognizably in naan. Nigella is also used in Armenian string cheese, a braided string cheese called majdouleh or majdouli in the Middle East.
Archaeological evidence about the earliest cultivation of N. sativa dates to millennia, with N. sativa seeds found in several sites from ancient Egypt, including Tutankhamun's tomb. Seeds were found in a Hittite flask in Turkey from the second millennium BCE.
N. sativa may have been used as a condiment of the Old World to flavor food. The Persian physician Avicenna in his Canon of Medicine described N. sativa as a treatment for dyspnea. N. sativa was used in the Middle East as a traditional medicine.
Oils are 32% to 40% of the total composition of N. sativa seeds. N. sativa oil contains linoleic acid, oleic acid, palmitic acid, and trans-anethole, and other minor constituents, such as nigellicine, nigellidine, nigellimine, and nigellimine N-oxide. Aromatics include thymoquinone, dihydrothymoquinone, p-cymene, carvacrol, α-thujene, thymol, α-pinene, β-pinene and trans-anethole. Protein and various alkaloids are present in the seeds.
One meta-analysis of clinical trials found weak evidence that N. sativa has a short-term benefit on lowering systolic and diastolic blood pressure, with limited evidence that various extracts of black seed can reduce triglycerides and LDL and total cholesterol, while raising HDL cholesterol. Despite considerable use of N. sativa in traditional medicine practices in Africa and Asia, there is insufficient, high-quality clinical evidence to indicate that consuming the seeds or oil provides any benefit to human health.
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