(Carum carvi L.)

Caraway (Carum carvi), also known as meridian fennel or Persian cumin is a biennial of the family Apiaceae (parsley family).

Central Europe to Asia; it is not clear, however, whether caraway is truly indigenous to Europe. Today, it is chiefly cultivated in Finland, the Netherlands, Eastern Europe and Germany, furthermore North Africa, particularly Egypt.

The German term for caraway, Kümmel, derives from Latin cuminum for cumin and was misapplied to the plant popular in Germany. Latin cuminum leads, via Greek kyminon further back to Semitic forms, e. g., Old Hebrew kammon.

Similarly to Latin cuminum, Greek karon means cumin, not caraway.

Its origin is not clear; it derives maybe from the name of a region in Asia Minor (Caria), but may well be a variant of Greek kyminon cumin or belong to the kin of coriander. The word was transferred to Latin as carum with the changed meaning caraway and thus gave rise to number of modern names of caraway, e. g., French carvi, Italian caro, Greek karvi and Norwegian karve.

The English term caraway was probably mediated by Arabic (modern form al-karawya) from Latin carum. Cf. the Iberic names Portuguese alcaravia and Spanish alcaravea on the derivation of the prefix al-.

The plant is similar in appearance to other members of the carrot family, with finely divided, feathery leaves with thread-like divisions, growing on 20–30 cm stems. The main flower stem is 40–60 cm tall, with small white or pink flowers in umbels. Caraway fruits (erroneously called seeds) are crescent-shaped achenes, around 2 mm long, with five pale ridges.

caraway sedes

The plant prefers warm, sunny locations and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. In warmer regions it is planted in the winter months as an annual. In temperate climates it is planted as a summer annual or biennial. There is however a polyploid variant (with four haploid sets=4n) of this plant that was found to be perennial.

Caraway is an attractive biennial that reaches 2 feet. It has feathery leaves and umbrella-like clusters of tiny white flowers, which bloom in early summer.   

carawayplantCaraway grows easily from seeds planted in spring 1cm deep and 15cm apart.  Caraway likes rich, well-drained soil and full sun. Keep plants moist but not wet.

The first year, caraway produces a small rosette of leaves and a long tap-root. Don’t transplant it once it has become established. During the second year, caraway sends up its stem, reveals its feathery leaves, and produces seeds.

Seeds appear in midsummer. Harvest them as soon as they ripen. Leave some to self-seed.

Caraway is often recognized the most typical spice of the German-speaking countries. It is an ancient spice of Central Europe: Caraway fruits have indeed been found in Neolithic villages (though that does only prove that the plant grew there, not that caraway was actually utilized), and since Roman times there is plenty of documentation for numerous culinary and medicinal application — not least to mention caraway-flavoured liquor, known as kummel in the USA, that is mostly produced and consumed in Northern Germany and Scandinavia (akvavit). Although caraway is a common plant of Alpine meadows at low elevation, is was grown systematically in medieval monasteries, mainly to its extremely effective anti-flatulent powers there is still some domestic production of caraway in Germany, although most now stems from Egyptian imports.

caraway-tabil spice

Most caraway is grown in Eastern Europe, Holland, and Egypt. Because of its uniform shape, consistent colour, and oil content, Dutch caraway is considered the premium seed. Egyptian caraway is milder than Dutch caraway. Caraway seed is believed to have been cultivated and used in Europe longer than any other condiment. The seeds themselves have been found in debris of the earliest lake dwellings in Switzerland.


Other similar members of the family Apiaceae include anise, fennel, dill, cumin, licorice-root (Ligusticum), and coriander(cilantro). Therefore, along with fennel and star anise, caraway seeds can also be substituted for anise seeds.

Holland is the world’s largest caraway producer, but it’s also grown in Germany, Russia, Morocco, parts of Scandinavia, Canada, and the United States. There are several varieties of caraway available, including English, Dutch, German (obtained from plants cultivated in Moravia and Prussia), Norwegian and Russian.

Aroma & Flavour

Caraway is strongly aromatic and warm. The fruits, usually used whole, which have a pungent, anise-like flavour and aroma that comes from essential oils, mostly carvone and limonene. Caraway seeds are similar in flavour to that of aniseed.

Caraway has a sharp, pleasant, slightly bitter flavour with a sweet undertone.

Health Benefits of Caraway:

Caraway also has a long tradition of medical uses, primarily for stomach complaints. Emerging and ongoing research from Arabic regional studies suggest Carum Carvi use as an endocrine function support agent, specifically related to thyroid disorders and auto immune disease.

The important health benefits of caraway seeds are providing relief in cold, cough, sore throat, fever, bronchitis, gingivitis, and irritable bowel syndrome. It can prove quite beneficial for stimulating appetite.

The essential oil can be extracted from the seeds and has similar properties to the seed. Caraway seed oil is used as a fragrance component in soaps, lotions, and perfumes. Caraway oil is extracted from the seed by steam distillation, and seeds contain 3 to 5 per cent oil. Oil quality is important although highly variable. As more seed goes into the oil trade, the oil quality will become a more significant factor.

Caraway fruits may contain 3% to 7% essential oil. The aroma of the oil is mostly dominated by carvone (50 to 85%) and limonene (20 to 30%); the other components carveol, dihydro­carveol, α- and β-pinene, sabinene and perillyl alcohol are of much minor importance.

Caraway is related to dill, fennel and anise and has been thought to have many of the same medicinal properties – an antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, and digestive. It’s been used to stimulate milk production in mothers as well as treat infant colic and is often used to flavor children’s medicines.

Caraway seed tea is prepared by adding 1 to 2 teaspoon of seeds to 150 ml of boiling water. Steep the water for 10-15 minutes and strain. Consume the tea 1-3 times per day.

They form an excellent house cleaner for the body and increase the action of the kidneys.

The powder of the seeds, made into a poultice, will also take away bruises.

Buying and storing

Can be purchased at any spice market or green grocer. It is either bought fresh as well as dried… Seeds can be purchased and grown for your own kitchen garden or be bought at your local nursery or garden centre.

Ground caraway is best bought in small quantities and stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Whole seeds can be stored in a tightly sealed container in a cool area for up to six months.

Since caraway oil is very volatile, the seed needs to cure during storage. Natural air drying (aeration) is necessary for curing. Hot air drying should be avoided if possible.


Apple Caraway Molasses Muffins

Ideas with cooking with Caraway

  • Caraway seeds are the main part of the plant used although the entire plant is edible.
  • Caraway fruits are used for flavour and used within reason, not to over power the food as it is very pungeant and a prized spice throughout the world of cuisine.
  • Caraway is also used in desserts, liquors, casseroles, curry and other foods. It is more commonly found in European cuisine.
  • The roots may be cooked as a root vegetable like parsnips or carrots.
  • The leaves of the caraway plant can be used as an herb, much like its relative, parsley. Used in salads, as a seasoning or can be cooked. Here the fruit/seeds are used in a Cabbage Salad Dressed In French.
  • Fresh Caraway seed gives cheese a unique flavour that is a delicious addition to many sandwiches and wonderful on green beans.
  • Caraway is the spice that gives Southern German and Austrian foods, be it meat, vegetable or rye bread, their characteristic flavour. It is also popular in Scandinavia and particularly in the Baltic states, but is hardly known in Southern Europe.
  • True caraway aficionados (ground up into a powder) use the whole fruits, but even the powder is strongly aromatic. Caraway’s aroma does not harmonize with most other spices, but its combination with garlic is effective and popular in Austria and Southern Germany for meat (e. g., roast pork Schweinsbraten) and vegetables. Even sausages.
  • Caraway seeds are sometimes used in pickling and brining.
  • German Sauerkraut (sour cabbage made by lactic fermentation) is always flavoured with caraway (and juniper). Un-fermented boiled cabbage without caraway lacks character. Some cheese varieties from Central Europe contain caraway grains.
  • In Serbia, it is commonly sprinkled over homemade salty scones (pogačice s kimom). It is also used to add flavour to cheeses such as bondost, pultost, nøkkelost and havarti. Akvavit and several liqueurs are made with caraway. In Middle Eastern cuisine, caraway pudding is a popular dessert during Ramadan. Also it is typically made and served in Levant area in winter and in the occasion of having a new baby.
  • Caraway is of some importance in the cuisines of North Africa, mostly in Tunisia. Several recipes of Tunisian harissa, a fiery paste made of dried chillies, call for caraway.
  • tabilspicetuni

    Tunisian Spice Mix Tabil 

  • An African Organic Rye Bread; uses caraway for flavouring too!!
  • Caraway is a controversial spice; to many, it appears dominant and disagreeable, especially to those who are not used to a cuisine rich in caraway. Usage of the ground spice is a working compromise; another method is wrapping the fruits in a small piece of linen cloth (or simply a tea bag) so that it can be removed before serving.
  • It is wonderful used in bread, gives it a rich flavour that really adds a beautiful lasting note, ideal pairing for soups and rich meals. Caraway seeds mostly used as a spice to impart flavour in breads, especially rye bread. Caraway seeds and ground caraway is used to make bread.
  • duqqaEgyptian Spice Duqqa

A great substitute for caraway is Caraway thyme as it has a strong caraway scent and is sometimes used as a substitute for real caraway in recipes.

Caraway is a controversial spice, appearing dominant and unpleasant to those who are not accustomed to it. Use of the ground spice or the fruits in bouquet garni removed after cooking is a compromise.