The Kalonji, Nigella, Black Cumin, Black Sesame, Love-in-a-Mist & Onion Seeds Mystery


Phyllis from Pennsylvania wrote me today: “Have you any information about Nigella seed and its uses in your recipes? I have used your cookbook for years and years and it simply changed my approach to cooking. Every now and then I come across a new spice and wonder how to use it in your recipes.”

My reply to Phyllis: Yes Phyllis, I do have information. I am reproducing a posting from an earlier blog that amply covers the subject. Neeru Salwan wrote me and asked “I am a vegetarian and also do not eat onion and garlic. Is kalonji considered as onion seeds? And can we eat nigella seeds? What are they?”

My earlier reply to Neeru: Hello Neeru! You are not alone in your confusion. Kalonji seeds, also correctly named Nigella seeds (Nigella sativa) (pictured above) are not seeds of the onion plant. There is no connection. It is a colloquial term only, because they look like onion seeds.

They are also sometimes called black cumin, but this is also a mistake. Black cumin (Cuminum nigrum) {it is also sometimes ascribed to Bunium persicum}, is a totally different seed. It is even sometimes called black sesame, which is also a totally different plant, although their seeds are quite similar.

Nigella sativa is an annual flowering plant, native to southwest Asia. It grows to 20-30 cm tall, with finely divided, linear leaves. The flowers are delicate, and usually coloured pale blue and white, with 5-10 petals. The fruit is a large and inflated capsule composed of 3-7 united follicles, each containing numerous seeds. The seed is used as a spice.

Nigella sativa seed is known variously as kalonji (Hindi), kezah (Hebrew), habbah elbarakah (literally seeds of blessing, Arabic) or siyah daneh (Persian).

In English it is called fennel flower, black caraway, nutmeg flower or Roman coriander. It is related to, looks like, and sometimes mistaken for the beautiful flowering plant Love-in-a-Mist. It is also sometimes just referred to as nigella or black seed. It was even used in very old English cookery, and called gith.

This potpourri of vernacular names for this plant reflects that its widespread use as a spice is relatively new in the English speaking world, and largely associated with immigrants from areas where it is well known. Increasing use is likely to result in one of the names winning out, hopefully one which is unambiguous.

Old Islamic medicine favours kalonji seeds mixed with honey for insomnia, sexual debility, dyslipidemia and many other diseases. It is said “Salim Bin Abdullah narrates with reference to his father Hazrat Abdullah Bin Omar that Rasool Allah (Pbuh) said, ‘Let fall these black seeds upon you, these contain cure for all diseases, except death.'”

These tiny, tear-drop shaped seeds are dusty jet black in colour with an earthy slightly pungent, slightly bitter pleasant flavour. Kaloniji are extensively used in Indian cooking, particularly in pickles.


They are also sprinkled over soft Tandoor-baked breads such as Naan, as is done in Northern India, and also on Turkish Pide breads (pictured, above). In India’s medical tradition, Ayurveda, kalonji seeds are recommended for cleansing of toxins in the blood, helping to stimulate the liver, and used as a paste to clear skin blemishes.

In western herbal medicine, Nigella sativa is described as having hypertensive, carminative, and anthelminthic properties.

Nigella is also used in Bengali Panch Porum (5-spice). I love using it in the batter for pakoras, assorted vegies dipped in spiced chickpea flour batter and fried to crispy magnificence. Yum!!


Greek Hay

seeds in this photo may appear larger than they actually are

William from Seattle wrote me asking about fenugreek, and how to use it.

My reply:

An erect annual herb of the bean family, indigenous to western Asia and south-eastern Europe, Fenugreek (Trigonella foenum-graecum) is cultivated for its seeds, which, although legumes, are used as a spice.

The seeds are small, hard, yellowish-brown, smooth and oblong, about 3mm (1/8th inch) with a deep furrow across one corner. Fenugreek has a warm, slightly bitter taste, reminiscent of burnt sugar and maple.

The seeds are used in Greece and Egypt and especially India, where they are lightly dry-roasted or fried to extract their characteristic flavour. One should note, however, that over-roasting or over-frying fenugreek results in an excessive bitter taste.

Whn soaked overnight the seed coat beomes soft and jelly-like, and in this state it is one of the chief ingredients of a paste of bitter herbs called halba or hilbe, popular with people of middle-eastern origin.

The leaves of the fenugreek plant are also popular in Indian cuisine. Known as methi, they are used in vegetable dishes, breads and savories. Easily home-grown, fresh young fenugreek leaves are wonderful in salads, dressed with oil and lemon.

The young plants are used as a vegetable, being harvested when they are about 20cm (8 inches) high and tied in bundles like mint or parsley. Fenugreek can be sprouted, and the sprouts lend a pungent favour to salads.

Fenugreek is famous as an ancient medicinal herb. American Indian women took the soaked seeds after childbirth to expedite healing. It was also renowned as a useful cure for constipation, as a powerful expectorant, and is today used in Europe as an herbal infusion to break up respiratory congestion.

The seeds are a carminative (they relieve flatulence), and they are a useful treatment for diabetes.

Modern research shows that fenugreek seeds lowers blood cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Externally, the seeds are useful as a poultice for abscesses, boils and carbuncles. It is also great as a cure for dandruff – soak some seeds in water overnight, grind up into a paste, apply in the scalp and hair, and rinse. You will be dandruff free, although you will smell a little of curry! A small price to pay…

Fenugreek seeds are available at Indian or Middle Eastern grocers. The fresh leaves (if you are shopping outside India), can occasionally be found in markets or can be home-grown.

The Best of Kurma Blog #2 – Milky Talk


May from Leicestershire, UK writes:

“Dear Kurma,

Thanks for a great blog – I am an avid reader. Thank you very much for your informative article on the pasteurization of
milk (Tuesday, March 6, 2007) highlighting the dangers of this process. You
wrote “pasteurization is a destructive process that changes the physical
structure of the fragile proteins in milk (especially casein) and converts
them into proteins your body was never designed to handle – and that can
actually harm you”
. {read the entire article} Given that unprocessed milk directly from the cow is not
available to buy in the UK, would you recommend avoiding milk entirely
rather than drinking pasteurized milk?

I also read with much interest your other posts on cow’s milk. Quoting from
“Religion You Can Drink” (2/11/2007), milk “fortifies the body and develops
the brain’s finer tissues as well. By filling us with goodness, milk clears
the consciousness so we can consider higher, spiritual life.”
{read the entire article} Is all this
also true of milk that has been pasteurized? Lastly, would it be possible
for a vegan spiritual adherent to gain those benefits through other foods? Many thanks, May.

vrindavan cow:

My reply:

Dear May,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful letter. Excuse the delay in reply. Glad to hear you are enjoying the blogs.

You ask ‘given that unprocessed milk directly from the cow is not available to buy in the UK, would you recommend avoiding milk entirely rather than drinking pasteurized milk?’

There are still benefits from drinking milk under any circumstances, in my opinion. And whereas un-pasteurized milk is not legally sold, some farmers are happy to sell it to you ‘under the counter’. But don’t quote me on that one. If that is impossible, try to buy unhomogenized whole milk. That should be easy enough to find. Here in Australia it’s available in all the supermarkets.

Organic, biodynamic milk is also available here. I am sure that is available in the UK also. In a nutshell, try to buy the purest, cruelty-free milk you can find.

You ask if pasteurized milk can still have spiritual benefits. Yes, if it is drunk hot with a little sweetener and some spice like cardamon, saffron, nutmeg, cinnamon or even a little turmeric added. The sweetener and the spice help it digest and counter mucus-forming. And especially if that milk is sanctified. I explain that below.

Lasty, you ask if it would possible for a vegan spiritual adherent to gain those benefits through other foods?

Definitely. I have many vegan friends who, like me, practice Bhakti-yoga. Part of that ancient and practical yoga system is to prepare foods in a clean, devotional consciousness and offer the resultant dishes to God before partaking.

prasadam 6:

The food becomes subtly transformed, like a sacrament, and partaking of such spiritualised foods purifies the mind and senses, bringing one closer to God.

prasadam 3:

Hope this all sheds some light.

The Best of Kurma Blog #1 – Irving the Jewish Dog


I’ve been browsing my old blogs in commemoration of the last four years of postings. I’ve decided to share some goodies. Here’s a Jewish dog joke. Some of you may have heard it before.

Morty visits Dr. Saul, the veterinarian, and says, “My dog
has a problem.”

Dr. Saul says, “So tell me about the dog and the problem.”

“It’s a Jewish dog. His name is Irving and he can talk,”
says Morty.

“He can talk?” the doubting doctor asks.

“Watch this!” Morty points to the dog and commands: “Irving, Fetch!”

Irving, the dog, begins to walk toward the door, then turns
around and says,

“So why are you talking to me like that?
You always order me around like I’m nothing. And you only
call me when you want something. And then you make me sleep
on the floor, with my arthritis. You give me this fahkahkta
food with all the salt and fat, and you tell me it’s a
special diet. It tastes like dreck! YOU should eat it
yourself! And do you ever take me for a decent walk? NO, it’s
out of the house, a short pish, and right back home. Maybe if
I could stretch out a little, the sciatica wouldn’t kill me
so much! I should roll over and play dead for real for all
you care!”

Dr. Saul is amazed, “This is remarkable! What could be the

Morty says, “He has a hearing problem! I said ‘Fetch’, not

Kurma says: “Can’t figure out this joke? No Jewish friends to ask? Alright, already, read this..

Happy Birthday Kurma Blog!

Mario wishes me happy birthday:

Kurma Blog Enter’s Fifth Year

It’s official. The Fourth birthday of my blog next week will see the commencement of the fifth year of it’s publication. Some thought it would only be a passing fad. True, I’ve missed a few days here and there.

Especially lately, when looking after my teenage son as a single parent (and also tending to my ailing father) has become a full-time job.

Yes, I know Mario should be holding up a number 4, but it was such a nice looking cake I couldn’t resist.

Thanks for all your support over the years. Here’s hoping there will be many more years to come.

At your service,


ps, by the way, if you have too much time on your hands, please check out my blog archives. All my back blogs are there.

Adelaide Winter Solstice Cookery Weekend

Last Sunday marked the shortest day of the year in Australia. While Northern Hemisphere’s revellers danced frenetically till the bright wee hours of their Summer Solstice, down under had it’s longest cold, dark night.

Such is life in Mother Nature’s endless loop of constant seasonal change. Another winter starts to move towards spring, we all get a little bit warmer, a bit older in the process, and, hopefully, a little bit wiser.

We celebrated in culinary style at The Sticky Rice Cookery School in South Australia’s Adelaide Hills. Here’s our team for day one – a full class.

poised for action:

And this was our menu:

Westward Bound

Big Country:

For any of my readers from Western Australia, I’m booked for two classes there in July. Here’s the details:

Upper Crust Cooking School

West Perth, WA

Evening Workshop, Monday 20 July

Bookings 08 9481 4149


Aspenz Cooking School

Bunbury, WA

Evening Workshop, Wednesday 22 July

Bookings 08 9721 7400


Maybe I’ll see you there!


pimento berries:

Marjorie from Texas writes:

“What is the difference between Allspice and Mixed Spice?”

My reply:

This is a good question Marjorie. Mixed spice is a sweet spice combination, usually containing cinnamon, nutmeg, maybe some cloves and maybe mace and allspice.

Allspice is also known as pimento. Pimento is also a name for the small red chilies, also called pimiento, that are commonly pickled and stuffed inside olives. So there is sometimes a confusion. Allspice berries (also known as pimento) are what we are talking of here.

Pimento is an essential ingredient of Jamaican cooking and the essential ingredient in jerk sauce. The wood was first used to smoke jerk in Jamaica to produce the characteristic flavour. Nowadays the berries serve as a good substitute.

Dried pimento berries look like larger, browner versions of whole black pepper, but have a very different, unique flavour. Pimento is also a good home remedy for upset stomach in which case it is either chewed or crushed up and used to make tea. It is used in the preparation of bean dishes, not only because of its excellent flavour but because it is believed to reduce the flatulence caused by beans.

allspice seeds:

Pimento was discovered in Jamaica by Spanish explorers in 1509. The name originates from the Spanish ‘pimenta’ (pepper or peppercorn). Most people call the tree ‘pimento’ and the berries ‘allspice’. Because the pimento berry has the flavour and aroma characteristic of cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and pepper all combined in one spice, it is called allspice.

Pimento is used in sauces, pickling, cakes and curry powders.

Here’s loads more information…

Weekend at Wauchope

My goodness! It’s been a whole week without a blog. Looking after myself, my father and my son is certainly almost more that I can keep up with. I do still get to teach regularly. It’s really like breathing for me – it just has to be done.

Last Friday I boarded a train and enjoyed a gentle and meditative seven-hour journey north from Sydney to the town of Wauchope.

world rushes by:

It was a rare chance to go deep and wander around in my inner world, as the outer world rushed by.

absorbed in sound:

My noise-canceling headphones + my iPod = spiritual rejuvenation. A rare delight!

gang of ten:

The Company Farm, run by Lyn Withers, was the venue. My fourth visit was, as usual, enlivening and enlightening, both for me and my students. Saturday’s class was conducted in the afternoon, concluding in dinner.

a little potty:

Sunday morning was crisp and bright, and I commenced my ‘mis-en-place’ as the sun rose.

still life:

The Clarence river gurgled nearby, the winter sun sparkled on damp grass, and all was well with the world.

just about ready:

Cutting boards were set up, I finished my morning herbal infusion, apron ready to don. Guests arriving soon…

minute particles of the whole:

Little bowls and cups were filled with all the magical ingredients for our kitchen alchemy.

the gang of nine:

After the intoductory talk, we posed for another pre-class archival photo.

lunch at the farm:

That’s Lyn, far left. We chose a great menu, and enjoyed the company of some interesting attendees, all of whom were eager to learn, cook and eat. Cookery is my life’s engagement, and my meditation.