Caraway seeds are typically used as a popular spice to add flavor and punch to a variety dishes. Their warming, peppery flavor and fragrance make them a firm favorite in traditional European cuisine especially in the Mediterranean region.
It is unsurprising therefore that caraway seeds, much like their other family members, confer a variety of health benefits to give your cooking and your health the boost it needs.
What are Caraway Seeds?
Caraway grows profusely all around Europe, Northern Africa and parts of Western Asia. It is a biennial herb that blooms every other year with white or cream colored flowers. The caraway plant which grows to a height of two feet bears seeds which appear very similar to cumin seeds.
The seeds are dark brown, crescent shaped with several stripes running along the surface. The plant is harvested early in the day, bundled and allowed to dry under the sun before the seeds are threshed and extracted manually or with a machine.
Caraway seeds are extremely healthy and nutritious. They contain a wide variety of important vitamins and minerals and also act as a natural antioxidant. If you are wondering why you should be eating caraway seeds, here are some facts that may persuade you.
- Caraway seeds contain loads of important dietary fiber. A 100 gram serving of these seeds contains a whopping 38 grams of fiber which is 100%..that’s right 100% of your recommended daily allowance of fiber. For those of you who feel you need to increase your fiber intake, look no further than the caraway seed.
- Caraway seeds get their distinctive flavor and fragrance from chemical compounds called caveoles and carvones. These chemical compounds are largely responsible for several of the medicinal properties of the spice including its antioxidant, carminative and digestive properties.
- Caraway seeds are a great source of diverse minerals including copper, potassium, iron, calcium, selenium, magnesium, manganese and zinc.
- We all know that calcium has bone benefits while iron and copper are essential for the body to produce red blood cells.
- Potassium helps our heart work effectively and to maintain both healthy blood pressure and steady heart rate.
- Zinc has a number of important functions in the body including growth, development, digestion and sperm production.
- Caraway seeds also provide you with a number of very important vitamins including several of the the B family of vitamins, vitamins A, C and E.
- Caraway seeds are not only eaten. An essential oil is also made from the plant with a wide variety of health benefits. The essential oils made from caraway contain numerous chemical compounds such as limonene, pinen, carveol, thujone and aldehyde. These compounds have been well studied and are known to have many therapeutic actions including antioxidant activity and digestive benefits.
Health Benefits of Caraway Seeds
1) Digestive Health
We have already mentioned what a great source of dietary fiber caraway seeds are. Adding sufficient fiber to your diet is vital for proper digestive function. It can help settle the stomach and stave off common stomach problems including indigestion, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.
The fiber found in caraway seeds helps add bulk and mass to the food you have consumed as it passes through the digestive tract making it easier to pass through the body before being excreted. They are also useful if you are one of the many people suffering from chronic stomach conditions like IBS.
2) Weight Loss
Foods which are high in fiber are not only good for your digestive health but they are also believed to be good for the waistline. In the case of caraway seeds, there is scientific evidence to back up the belief.
Recent research conducted in Malaysia found that an extract made from caraway seeds helped participants not only to lose weight but also body fat and BMI.
The study was done using 70 female volunteers who were either obese or overweight but otherwise in good health. The women were separated into groups and either treated with caraway seed extract or given a placebo for 90 days. Apart from being given caraway no changes were made regarding diet or exercise.
By the end of the trial, those who took the caraway extract had lost an average of over 6 pounds compared to a slight weight gain among the placebo group. People in the caraway group also experienced considerable improvements in BMI, body fat percentage and an increase in muscle mass.
Those in the group given caraway also saw a two inch reduction in waist circumference. (1)
3) Heart Health
Foods which are rich in fiber like caraway seeds can help reduce LDL cholesterol levels in the body. Reducing overall and LDL cholesterol in turn reduces your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. The natural antioxidants found in caraway seeds also play a vital role in cardiac health by neutralizing the damaging effects of free radicals.
4) Menstrual Cramps
Many women suffer from extreme cramps during their period as the uterine wall contracts to shed its inner lining. While many women find relief in pharmaceuticals, there are a number of more natural treatments available that may just relieve their spasms. One of the purported uses of caraway seeds is to help women overcome the pain of spasms during menstruation.
It is a safe and natural alternative treatment and is so easy to do that it is certainly worth trying.
- Just add a teaspoon or so of caraway seeds to a cup of boiling water and allow it to steep.
- After ten or so minutes, strain the seeds away , flavor with some honey and drink up.
For the millions of people suffering from poor sleep patterns or insomnia, caraway seeds may provide a natural solution. The reason that you may get some comfort from caraway seeds is that they are high in magnesium which is linked to better quality and duration of sleep.
They also help to regulate your metabolism which can also help you to overcome sleeping issues. Try a cup of caraway tea before bed and see if it helps.
6) Other Potential Benefits
Apart from the uses listed above, caraway seeds are used for respiratory issues especially to clear coughs. They are also used to sweeten the breath and combat gum disease. An essential oil made from caraway can be applied topically to improve the appearance of the skin, scalp and hair.
How to Consume Caraway Seeds
Caraway seeds are available the year round in either seed or ground powder form. After buying your seeds, you should store them in a cool and dark area where they should keep well for a number of months.
Caraway seeds have a sweet, warm pepper like aroma and are a popular spice in Mediterranean cuisine. You will find a number of recipes which call for caraway or you can simply experiment and try them in your own recipes.
Caraway seeds can be used on bread, biscuits and even sprinkled on cheese or salad.
To improve your digestion or deal with menstrual pain, you can chew on the seeds but the most effective and satisfying way to take them is to make a caraway tea.
- Simply bring a cup of water to the boil, add a heaped teaspoon of caraway seeds and allow the mixture too steep for at least 10 minutes.
- Strain, sweeten as desired with honey and drink up several times a day.