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More than just a flavour

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DISTINCT TASTE Caraway flavoured spare ribs
DISTINCT TASTE Caraway flavoured spare ribs

Caraway is widely used in cooking and medicine

In Dublin's bars, at the turn of the 20th century, caraway seeds were offered to customers to hide the smell of alcohol on the breath. Caraway, known as shahjeera in Hindi, is a member of the parsley family. The taste is similar to cumin, but with more bitterness and bite. The spice is native to central Europe and Asia. Caraway seeds have been found in Neolithic settlements.Roman historians and cooks have left behind written descriptions of its use in cooking and medicine. Caraway root is edible and resembles the parsnip. The Romans considered caraway superior to the parsnip. It was a favourite of the soldiers of Valerius in the days of Julius Caesar.

Caraway myths

Central Europe is the land of caraway myths. One goes like this: if you put caraway seeds in an object you do not want stolen, it will likely remain un-stolen. This myth is the basis for adding caraway seeds to pigeon feed: it keeps these birds from flying the coop. Caraway is popular in the cuisine of Scandinavia, Germany, central Europe and the Baltic states. The seeds give rye bread its distinctive flavour. The seeds also flavour fish, meat, sausages, cheeses, soups, sauerkraut, cakes and baked foods. Spice pastes from the Middle East and North Africa feature caraway, notably in Yemen and Tunisia. Caraway is also an ingredient in Mughalai cuisine and the curries of north India. However, it is often mistaken for black cumin. Caraway leaves are added to salads, soups and meat stews. Caraway roots are eaten as a vegetable. The aromatic oil from the seeds flavours liqueurs in Germany. Caraway seeds contain aromatic oils like carvone and limonene. In medieval Europe, monasteries grew caraway for the aromatic oil. The oil kept flatulence away, and for monks flatulence was a sufficient impediment to spirituality to start cultivating herbs.Caraway seed oil has antibacterial properties. Traditionally, the oil has been used as an appetiser, digestive and stimulant. The seeds are a folk remedy for indigestion, nausea and colic. R.M

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