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Ajowan: Healing Spice

A less familiar #spice, but one popular in India, Ajowan (pronounced aj'o-wen) is prized for its ability to add zest to curries and aroma to breads and biscuits, but also for its power to cure everyday ills. In the Indian culture, warm distilled water steeped with ajowan seeds is preferred to taking an aspirin for a headache or instead of taking cough medicine for a cold, or even an antacid for #heartburn or an antihistamine for #allergies. This ancient medicinal spice has more than a dozen active compounds in its tiny little seed, and one of them is as strong as morphine.

Although a stranger to most American kitchen cabinets, Ajowan is often found in American medicine cabinets. Its active ingredient is often used in our cough medicines and lozenges. Thymol, its essential oil, is found in toothpaste and mouthwash, and it's even used to maintain the shelf life of packaged foods and perfumes. Not only is it popular in India, but this spice is also cherished in Iran, Pakistan, North Africa and Afghanistan.

Ajowan is often used in dishes with root vegetables, with starchy foods, and with legumes. #India most commonly uses this spice with their lentil dishes, both for its taste and because of its ability to improve digestion and prevent flatulence.

Natural Pain Relief

Studies have demonstrated that ajowan seeds can be as effective for pain as morphine. This is due to its thymol content, and why chewing the raw seed will completely numb your tongue. You may find Indian medicinal remedies for pain including carum copticum (ajowan) extract as it seems to have a clear #analgesic effect.

Omam water is used as a home remedy for a variety of gastrointestinal ills, such as easing heartburn, relieving #belching and #bloating, reducing flatulence, and stopping #diarrhea. Research seems to point to choline, which aids the brain in sending healing messages to the body, and roasting them before making a warm infusion with them seems to be most effective. Acetylcholine is likely the reason behind its success in relaxing the gut as acetylcholine helps control involuntary muscles.

An All-Purpose Healer

Ajowan really is incredible. Healers have used it for a variety of concerns, but let me share a little bit about the practices science is really starting to support. Asthma is among the more impressive, as one study demonstrated that compared to theophylline, a boiled extract of ajowan offered comparable bronchodialation. Researchers provided the extract every thirty minutes to asthmatics and then measured their lung function, and they found the extract improved breathing ability by up to 32 percent.

In another study, ajowan had similar effects as the calcium channel blocker verapamil (Calan) in decreasing elevated blood pressure in animals. Ajowan has shown to be more effective than codeine for coughs and effective at killing a number of bacterias, including salmonella.

Getting to Know Ajowan

If you dine in an Asian restaurant, you might find an appetizer fritter called pakora or a filled dumpling called samosa. Ajowan is popular in baked goods in India. You will likely also find it in a wafer-thin bread called pappadam and in the puffed, pastry-like friend bread, paratha.

In Afghanistan, ajowan is also used in breads and pastries, and it's a key ingredient in the Ethiopian spice blend berbere, which is typically used to flavor vegetable dishes and meat stews.

This isn't an expensive spice, but may be a challenge to find in the States. Peek in Indian markets or specialty spice shops. The small seeds, like celery seeds, are sold whole as they aren't typically used ground. They should be light brown, uniform in color, and free of extraneous debris. They should have an herbal aroma as well. They can keep for two years if stored away from light and heat, and properly sealed in a glass jar.

The flavor has been described as strong, like thyme or anise. It should be cooked as well, to avoid numbing your lips and tongue, and the longer it cooks, the more mellow it becomes. First roast it in a little oil, to enhance the flavor, then ground. The small seeds are chewable, so they don't have to be ground. The seeds are tender and can be torn with your fingers, so using your mortar and pestle, you can easily get a powder. Some do prefer this spice whole.

Try it in an Indian bread, savory biscuit, or even a dessert. It is often used in chutneys, relishes, and even with pickles. You can also add it to meat dishes and fish curries, lentil stews, and potato casseroles. It really mellows with the longer cooking so you can add more than a little pinch in these soups. Some even dry roast it and add it to trail mix or spiced nut blends. Might be perfect in the crust of your chicken pot pie or on top of your stir-fried vegetables. Personally, I am going to try to make some ajowan parathas, and I'll share a picture in the comments if they turn out - actually, I'll share my spoils too, after I find this fascinating spice. Enjoy!

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