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Spice Descriptions and Uses

Ajwain

Family : Umbelliferae; Apiaceae

Other names: Ajwain, carom, bishop's weed, omum

Description

Ajowan looks like wild parsley (similar to caraway, celery and cumin seeds) and is a native of India. It is grown throughout the country in Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar and West Bengal. It is also grown in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Egypt. The striped seeds are used as the spice.

Botany

Ajowan is an erect, glabrous or minutely pubescent, branched annual that grows upto 90 cm. Stems are striate and leaves are distant and pinnately divided. Small white flowers are on terminal or seemingly lateral pedunculate, compound umbels. The fruits are ovoid, greyish brown, aromatic cremocarps with single seed.

Cultivation

Ajowan grows on all kinds of soil but does well on loams or clayey loams, both as a dry crop and under irrigation. Seeds are sown from September to November. The plants flower in about two months and the fruits become ready for harvesting when then flower heads turn brown. They are pulled out, dried on mats and the fruits are separated by rubbing by hands or feet.

Aroma and flavour

The sensoric quality of ajowan is similar to thyme, but stronger and less subtle. The essential oil (2.5 to 5% in the dried fruits) is dominated by thymol (35 to 60%); furthermore, a-pinene, b-cymene, limonene and e-terpinene have been found.

Culinary Use

Usage of ajowan is almost confined to Central Asia and Northern India. Ajowan is particularly popular in savoury Indian recipes like savoury pastries, snacks and breads. For example, the Bengali spic mixture panch phoron is sometimes enhanced with ajowan. Ajowan enjoys, however, some popularity in the Arabic world and is found in berebere, a spice mixture of Ethiopia which shows both Indian and Arabic heritage. In Southern Indian cuisine (which is predominantly vegetarian), tadka-like preparations are not only applied to dried lentils and beans, but also to green vegetables.

Medicinal and Other use

Ajowan is much used as a medicinal plant is ayurvedic medicine for its antispasmodic, stimulant, tonic and carminative properties. The seeds are used to ease asthma and indigestion. It is also widely used to treat diarrhoea and flatulence. In the West, thymol is used in medicines against cough and throat irritation. The thymol content makes ajowan a potent fungicide.

Indian Institute of Spices Research, India