Ajwain (pronounced aj’o-wen) is a member of the
Umbelliferae family, which has some 2,700 members including dill, caraway and
cumin. It is mostly found in Indian cooking, where it is also known as bishop’s
weed or carom. It is particularly suited to the delicate vegetarian fare found
in the state of Gujarat.
Ajwain seeds are used as a spice. The grayish-green
seeds are striped and curved (similar to cumin or caraway seeds in appearance),
often with a fine silk stalk attached. They are usually sold whole. The seeds
are often chewed on their own for medicinal value, tasting bitingly hot and
bitter, leaving the tongue numb for a while. Cooking ajowan mellows it
somewhat. When crushed, they have a strong and distinctive thyme-like fragrance.
Bouquet: a pungent
Flavour: a harsh thyme-like flavour with a bit of a
kick, leaving a milder, pleasant aftertaste
Ajwain is usually ground in mortar and pestle, or
crushed by rubbing between hands or fingertips before using. When used whole,
for parathas or other breads, lightly bruise the seeds first, to release oils
and increase flavour. The seeds can be stored indefinitely if kept from light
in airtight containers.
Ajwain has a particular affinity to starchy foods like
savoury pastries and breads, especially parathas. Snacks like Bombay mix and
potato balls get an extra kick from ajwain. It is also good with green beans
and root vegetables. Lentil dishes and recipes using besan (chick pea flour).
It is occasionally an ingredient of curry powder.
Ajwain seeds contain an essential oil which is about
50% thymol which is a strong germicide, anti-spasmodic and fungicide. Thymol is
also used in toothpaste and perfumery. It is used in a steeped liquid form
against diarrhea and flatulence. In India the seeds are used as a household
remedy for indigestion and colic, and used in poultices to relieve asthma and
arthritis. It also has aphrodisiac properties and the Ananga Ranga prescribes
it for increasing a husband’s enjoyment in his middle years.
Ajwain is and annual herbaceous, 30 -70 cm (1 -2 ft) in
height, bearing feathery leaves and red flowers. When the seeds are ripe, they
are dried and threshed. Ajwain is native to India, but is also cultivated in
Iran, Egypt Pakistan and Afghanistan.
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