The taste is quite pungent, hot and bitter, and they are usually roasted – either dry or in a little ghee which tones them down a bit.
The plant probably originated in Egypt, maybe India, is now grown all over the Middle East and India. It is a very old plant and, like many herbs a spices, was used medicinally for centuries. For some strange reason this seems to be a spice which has never quite made it in the West and seems to be used principally in Indian and other Eastern cuisines
Carom seeds have a strong flavour which can overpower everything else so they are used principally as a condiment rather than as a main element of a spice mix. They can be roasted and added to a dish like garam masala but beware, even a small quantity will make themselves known. Tadka or chhaunk is where you put some whole spices in a little oil or ghee, fry for a few seconds and use this as a garnish. Ajwain is a common ingredient in this along with cumin seeds and black mustard seeds.
I sometimes to use a few carom seeds in naan bread (mix in with the flour before adding the liquid) and also for making snacks like Namak Paare
The spice has good digestive qualities and so is good with vegetable dishes and particularly lentils where they help lessen the flatulent effects of the lentils. Other starchy snacks like aloo chaat, potato balls and bombay mix benefit from a little ajwain as it both gives it a kick and helps with digestion.
Pickles are another use where they are also added whole, and it can also be ground up with ginger and salt to make a kind of chutney. Carom seeds occasionally are used in curry powder.
Carom seeds are eaten in such small quantities that it seems a little strange to consider the nutritional benefits, however, for the record, they are rich in calcium, phosphorus and iron.
The medicinal features are of much more interest. The essential oil in carom seeds is about 50% thymol; this is a powerful antibacterial, germicide, fungicide and anti-spasmodic. Thymol is actually used commercially in toothpastes and perfumes.
In India, ajwain is routinely used as a remedy for indigestion, diarrhea, colic and other intestinal problems; although this has probably not been rigorously investigated, the antibacterial nature of thymol would suggest that these are probably valid uses.
Other claims for ajwain include relief from nasal congestion, bronchitis and asthma, helping to cure influenza and earache, fighting tooth decay (probably valid since it’s used in toothpaste) and using the oil to relieve arthritis.
What Is Ajwain (Carom) Seed?
Ajwain (pronounced uj-wine) is a seed-like fruit often used in Indian cooking as part of a spice mixture. It looks similar to fennel and cumin seeds and is highly fragrant, smelling like thyme. Its taste, however, is more like oregano and anise due to the bitter notes and strong flavor. Because of its pungency, a little goes a long way. Grown in India and Iran, ajwain, also known as carom seeds or bishops weed, is rarely eaten raw and instead is cooked before adding to a recipe. It is sold in both seed and powder form, although cooking with seeds is more common.
What Is Ajwain?
Like coriander, cumin, and fennel, ajwain belongs to the Apiaceae (or Umbelliferae) family of plants. The shrub’s leaves are feather-like and the plant’s fruit—often referred to as seeds—are pale khaki-colored, ridged in texture, and oval-shaped. Ajwain has been used since ancient times in cooking and for medicinal purposes and is part of Indian, Middle Eastern, and African cooking.
The ajwain plant is thought to have originated in Persia (Iran) and Asia Minor (what is now Turkey). From there, it spread to India and is now also grown in the Middle East and North Africa. Other names for ajwain are ajowan, ajowan caraway, ajave seeds, ajvain, ajwan, Ethiopian cumin, omam, and omum, depending on where it's used in the world.
What Does It Taste Like?
Because both thyme and ajwain contain the compound thymol, the Indian spice emits similar notes as the green herb. However, ajwain also combines this earthy, mint taste with the bitterness found in oregano, the bite of cumin, and the licorice flavor of anise, which mostly appears after the fact. Carom makes a complex and powerful statement and can overwhelm other ingredients.
Cooking With Ajwain
Because of its strong, dominant flavor, ajwain is used in small quantities and is almost always cooked. In Indian cooking, the spice is often part of the tadka in a dish. Tadka, or tempering, is a cooking method in which oil or butter (most often ghee) is heated until very hot, and whole spices are added and fried, creating what is called a chaunk. This oil and spice mixture is then incorporated into lentil dishes or added as a final touch or garnish to a dish.
If cooking a dish high in fat or starch, raw or cooked ajwain can be added toward the end of the recipe; its sharpness is a pleasant counterpart to the richness of the ingredients. Otherwise, the seed benefits from a long cooking time as the heat mellows out the thyme flavor and brings out more of the anise aftertaste. The seeds are also used in bread and biscuit dough and then sprinkled over the top when baked.
If a recipe calls for powdered carom, the seeds should be roasted, cooled, and then ground into a fine powder.
Recipes With Ajwain
In Indian recipes, ajwain is used in curries and as a tadka in pakoras and dals, as well as a flavoring in breads. Middle Eastern recipes incorporate carom to boost the flavor of meat and rice dishes and as a preservative in chutneys, pickles, and jams.
Where to Buy Ajwain
Ajwain seed can be found in Indian food markets, specialty spice shops, and online. Although it is most often sold in seed form, if you do find powdered, it is best to pass up as the flavor will have diminished; instead, buy the seeds and grind them at home as needed. Most often, you will find the spice offered in bulk or packaged in plastic bags. Choose carom seeds that look fresh and crisp with a strong smell; ajwain that has been sitting on a shelf a long time will have lost much of its scent.
If the ajwain was sold in bulk or in a plastic bag, it will need to be transferred to another container. If you have a large amount, place some in a recycled spice jar or small glass container and pour the rest into a larger glass container. (Glass does not absorb flavor like plastic can.) Store the carom seed in a cool, dark place where it will last for at least a year.
Rani Ajwain Seeds (Carom Bishops Weed) Spice Whole 16oz (1lb) 454g PET Jar
Ajwain is native to Southern India and is closely related to cumin and caraway, though all three spices differ in taste. The spice is widely used in Indian breads, pickles and soups. It has a hot, bitter taste, strong at times, though not dominating.
RECIPE: Southern Style Spinach
Cook time: 15min
Prep. time: 5 min.
Serving size: 4
Heat level: Medium
3 ½ cups chopped spinach
1 tbsp. Rani Tamarind paste
2 green chillies chopped
¼ tsp Rani Ajwain Seeds
2 tsp Rani Granulated garlic
1 tbsp coconut powder
2 tsp. salt
4 cups water
Product of India
Alternate Name: (English) Bishop’s Weed
Product Type: Seeds
Ingredients: Ajwain Seeds