The small, crescent-shaped “seed” of the Caraway, as it is popularly known, is – botanically speaking – actually the miniscule, dried-out fruit of the Caraway plant. It has a strong, pungent aroma and a warm, sweet flavor. Although it does not hold universal appeal for its value as a spice, if used judiciously and sparingly, caraway can pleasantly enhance the flavor of many a dish.
History of Caraway Seeds
The caraway spice has a long history, going back thousands of years. Its use was first documented in ancient Egypt, in the papyrus of Thebes, around fifteen hundred B.C. It is believed to be the oldest used condiment in Europe and still features as the most popularly used spice throughout middle Europe, such as Germany and the Nordic countries, the same countries that also produce it. Its name is thought be derived from its ancient Arabic name, ‘Karawya’.
Caraway in Cooking
The use of caraway seeds in baked goods, especially rye bread and cake, or coated with sugar and served as a side dish with fruit, was popular even in the Middle Ages and even finds honorable mention in Shakespeare’s plays. According to popular superstition of earlier times, it was endowed with the power to retain and preserve, and as such was believed to protect houses from burglary and lovers from becoming unfaithful.
Apart from its use in baked goodies, In Scandinavian cuisine, caraway flavors the popular Sauerkraut, and other dishes based on root vegetables such as potato and carrot. The caraway plants themselves resemble carrots with their long roots, and may be cooked and eaten in much the same way. It is as well used for adding flavor and character to cheese. Caraway is also used to produce several liqueurs, most notably Kummel.
Health Benefits of Caraway
Essential oils derived from the seed are used to prepare medicines to treat eye infections and tooth-aches, and there is even evidence that they may have a role to play in combating cancer. In the cosmetic industry, caraway oil is used to lend fragrance to soaps and creams.