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Cumin is sometimes confused with caraway, which looks similar, but tastes quite different. Cumin seeds are hotter to the taste, lighter in color, and larger than caraway seeds.
Cumin is native to the Mediterranean, but is popular in cuisines from Nepal and Western China, to India, North Africa and the Middle East, to Brazil and Mexico in the New World. Ancient Greeks kept cumin at the dining table in its own container, like we do with pepper and salt today. A symbol of fidelity, folklore cited cumin as keeping both chickens and lovers from wandering. A happy life awaited the bride and groom who carried cumin seed in their wedding ceremony.
Cumin can be used ground or as whole seeds, adding an earthy and warming feeling to your cooking. Ground cumin is important in Indian and Mexican/Latin cuisines: it is a key ingredient in chili powder and curry powder, and appears in achiote blends, adobos, garam masala, and bahaarat.
Ground cumin is stronger than whole cumin seeds. Cumin's distinctive flavor is accentuated by toasting the seeds in a hot pan, which also brings out its fine aroma, and slightly mutes the top piney notes.
Cumin is a delicious addition to beans, chicken, couscous, curry, eggplant, fish, lamb, lentils, peas, pork, potatoes, rice, sausages, soups, stews, and eggs.