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Spice: Ajowan Seed

Ajowan Seed 1

Ajowan Seed, also spelled ‘Ajwain’ sometimes called ‘Carom Seed’ in English, is used occasionally in the cuisines of Iran, Afghanistan and East Africa, but is most widely used in Indian cookery, particularly in the Northeastern states of Gujarat and Rajasthan. It is not a spice that you will come across in many western spice cabinets, nor on the shelves of mainstream supermarkets, but you can find it fairly easily in Indian or Middle-Eastern groceries or online, if you don’t mind shopping for spices that way. I certainly wouldn’t say that this is an essential spice in my collection, but it does have its uses and is worth looking for…

Ajowan Seed 2

Ajowan is actually a fruit pod, rather than a true seed, although the misclassification continues to persist in the common names. The ‘seed’s are very tiny indeed and you can see them shown here with cumin seed (on the left) for comparison. Other than the size, and a less elongated shape, the appearance is quite similar.

The aroma of ajowan seed is really quite pungent and is very reminiscent of thyme due to the fact that, as with the herb, the aromatic compound, Thymol, is a major component; Indeed, ‘Thymol Seed’ is an alternate name you occasionally come across. When you taste the raw seed, the initial taste has a flavor component that is very like the nutty, woody notes in cumin but then the much stronger thyme quality quickly dominates with sharp, resinous, almost pine-like notes.

Understandably, ajowan can be used in many applications where thyme is common, but I also find it suitable in dishes where cumin might be used. The taste is not similar, exactly, but there is something about the two separate flavor complexes that allows ajowan to ‘go’ where cumin would be an appropriate ingredient. That being said though, while I use cumin vary freely, with ‘gay abandon’ one might say, ajowan needs to be used much more sparingly as the pungent aromatics can easily overwhelm a dish.

In Indian cookery, the seeds are almost always use whole and frequently used in ‘tempering’, in which whole spices are toasted in smoking hot oil and then poured over dishes like dals, or curries. The flavor often enhances green and other vegetables, and is sometimes included in pickles, but it goes especially well in breads. You can if you like, try adding some to a basic Roti dough in order to get a sense of the taste but, if you wait a week or so, you can see it used here in a much more complex type of roti typical of North-eastern India…

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. I had never heard of this! I think that could be a fine addition to my lentils recipe, thank for this interesting post!! I also wonder if i could find it here in LA

    July 15, 2013
  2. feochadan #

    I use it when making Dal.

    July 15, 2013
  3. Probably not a seed that I could find but always enjoy reading about new ingredients.

    July 15, 2013
  4. This is really a new one for me! I would be most curious. I have one source that I often think has everything you’d ever need to find in a seed or spice, so I’ll see if they have it! If not, it probably isn’t one we’re permitted. LOL! There may be some international embargo on Ajowan!

    July 16, 2013
    • I wouldn’t think there is… easy to find online with a quick google 🙂

      July 16, 2013
  5. That is so interesting. I think I’ve probably come across it in Indian food and mistook it for cumin seeds. Definitely need to pay closer attention instead of just eating mindlessly 🙂

    September 4, 2013

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