Know Your Spices

Kalonji – The tiny soldier of health

An interesting spice, kalonji is popularly used to prepare various Indian dishes.  It is aromatic and is used in tempering dals and flavour curries, veggies, pickles and other lip-smacking dishes. This spice has a unique flavour which adds an exciting aroma to the dish. Belonging to the Ranunculaceae family, it is a shrub. Kalonji seeds oil is used to make Ayurvedic medicines. The oil has applications in the aroma industry too. 

Setting it apart

The spice known as Nigella Sativa or Black Cumin is also known as Kalojeera, Kalanji, black seeds, black caraway, fennel flower, onion seeds, Nigella and such. That’s quite a lot for a seed that small, isn’t it?  

Cultivation

Kalonji is a cold temperature crop. Hence, it is mainly grown during winters in northern India. While it needs tepid frostiness during sowing and cultivation, it needs a slighter warmer climate for ripening. 

Each seed has to be planted at least four to seven inches apart from one another to allow plant growth till harvesting. The seeds should not be sown more than 1.5cm deep; this is to protect the seed deposition. Light irrigation should be carried out after sowing. Irrigation should be carried out as per the crop requirement thereafter. 

Though sandy loamy soil is ideal for this spice, any type of soil is good enough. 

The soil must be rich with manure and fertilizers and the plant needs direct sunlight for a good yield. The soil has to be moist for at least a fortnight to allow seeds to germinate. Proper drainage is important for the cultivation of black cumin. The month of October is the right time to begin sowing.  

It takes a little over two months for the plant to be ready for harvesting.  

Then the crop is taken out from its root and kept aside for a week to dry. After drying, the seeds are separated through the method of threshing.  

A healthy cheer

Kalonji or Nigella seeds adds not just a beautiful flavour but is a good source of calcium says host & Chef Pankaj Bhadouria of Indian Food Classics, Zee Zest. 

It has also got an abundant amount of magnesium, iron, is packed with antioxidants, cancer-fighting properties and is known to lower cholesterol, she adds. 

These tiny black seeds belie their size. Full of vitamins A, C, E, K and trace minerals such as sodium, potassium and amino acids, fatty acids like linolenic and oleic acid, and more, the health benefits cannot be missed. 

It takes care of the respiratory problem like asthma and sinusitis and keeps your heart healthy.  It is a source of the anti-inflammatory active compound thymoquinone which is known to reduce inflammation, especially in pancreatic cancer cells. Like all good sources, it improves the immune system and ensures a healthy liver and kidney. It normalises blood sugar levels keeping diabetes under control.  

Other health benefits

  • Increases memory   
  • Treats acne 
  • Treats cracked heels  
  • Treats headaches   
  • Aids in weight loss   
  • Controls blood pressure 
  • Maintains dental health 

Keep a stock of kalonji oil at home. It is a go-to home remedy to boost your health and alleviate other niggling problems. Though the oil of kalonji is known to be safe during pregnancy it is also seen to reduce uterine contractions if used in large amounts. Therefore, the doctor’s advisory is needed. 

A twist in your dish

The love for onion seeds is spread far and wide. Resting on tandoori naan it gives a certain taste and flavour to this simply amazing roti. The natural black colour of this spice gives a certain edginess to the dish. It also makes for an important blend in Bengal’s 5 spice Paanch Phoron. You can add it to your Diwali chakklis and make them crispy and crunchy.  

Trivia

  • When buying kalonji ascertain that the seeds are jet black.  
  • Storing nigella in a dry place is extremely important. Moisture will ruin the spice. 
  • Buy small amounts of kalonji. This will prevent the spice from losing its aroma and health benefits. 

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