The first one I will discuss is Black Sesame. This may or may not be an unusual spice. It is commonly used in Chinese cooking as well as Indian and other Southeast Asian cuisines. The black and white sesame seeds come from the same plant, but just a different variety. Black sesame seeds have a slightly stronger flavor than white. They are an extremely good source of calcium; studies have shown that one gram of seeds contains approximately 85 milligrams of calcium. If you like the flavor of white sesame seeds, these will not be so different. They make a lovely presentation when sprinkled over rice, and are often included in Indian dishes, or sprinkled on breads just like the white sesame we know.
Next is Black Cumin seed. This is truly an unusual spice, and hardly known outside of India. Many places mistakenly sell Nigella seeds under the name of black cumin. Black cumin is Bunium persicum, and has a more nutty and earthy aroma than common cumin. It is far thinner and finer in size than regular cumin seed. As its name implies, the seeds are black and used commonly in northern Indian Moglai cuisines. It has a sweeter, lemony character with caraway notes. It is commonly used in yogurts, chutneys, curries and biryanis, some garam masalas. If you search out this spice, look for Bunium persicum specifically, or you may get nigella seeds.
Black Cardamom or Hill Cardamom, Amomum subulatum, is related to green cardamom and are both from the ginger family, but there the comparison stops. The flavors of black cardamom are far different and do not lend to use in sweet dishes. The seed pods are larger and coarser and have a camphor like flavor and a smoky character from the method of drying over fires. It is commonly used in savory dhal or rice mixtures, and in some northern Indian garam masalas.
Carom Seed or Ajowain
Carom, Trachyspermum ammi, is also known by Ajowain, Ajwain, Ajowan and many other spellings. It is a tiny seed with a flavor similar to thyme, but more aromatic and bitter. The seeds have a tiny stalk attached, much like anise seeds and look similar to celery seed. Carom is popular in Indian dhals or potatoes and is almost always used cooked in a dish as its flavor can be overwhelming when raw. It is good for digestion and is often used in lentil dishes for its anti flatulent effect.
Nigella, Nigella sativa, is sometimes mistakenly called Onion Seed, but is totally unrelated to onions. It is also confused with Black Cumin, as explained above. So what is this seed that is so confused with other species? It has a pungent bitter taste and smell with an oregano undertone. It is used often to top Naan bread, and used in the well-known Indian spice blend called Panch Phoran. A common mixture for this Indian five spice might be equal parts cumin, fennel, mustard, fenugreek and nigella seeds. This blend generally uses the spices left whole. They may be fried in oil to release flavors and the oil used in a food. Nigella seeds also are used in kormas, dhal and braised lamb.
Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I hope it was informative and helped you along your own culinary journey. You will find many more recipes and helpful tips on my web site. I am on Facebook at A Harmony of Flavors and share a recipe or tip each day to the fans that have liked my site. I hope to see you there soon.