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Caraway - Carum carvi

Updated on April 17, 2014
Caraway plant
Caraway plant | Source

Caraway is a biennial plan scientifically known as Carum carvi L belonging to family Apiaceae. It is widely known and cultivated for caraway seed (biologically fruit). Caraway seed is also known as Persian cumin, meridian fennel and shahi jeera. Caraway seeds are used raw, powdered or in the form of essential oil or oleoresins.

Caraway is popular by different names in different countries. It is called carvi in French and Italian, kummel in German, alcaravea in Spanish, karvy in Dutch, kminek in Polish, komeny in Hungarian, siah zeera in India. All European countries have their own, however, to some extent similar names for this species and these names might be traced back to the Arabian ‘karauya’ from the XII century. It is also called sushva, krishna jiraka or black cumin in India.

Caraway (Carum carvi L.) is usually confused with black caraway (Carum bulbocastanum Koch, Bunicum persicum Boiss) and Nigella (Nigella sativa L.) because of the common vernacular names, but they are botanically different from each other.

Caraway (Carum carvi L.) of the Apiaceae family, appears to have its origin in Asia Minor. The evidence of caraway was found in Middle Eastern Asia about 5000 years ago. The plant was well known to the ancient Egyptians and was introduced about 1000 years ago from northern Africa into Europe. Caraway seeds have been mainly used as a condiment for flavouring food preparations into Europe and the Middle East from ancient times. It is known to be cultivated in the Netherlands, Holland, Russia, Hungary, Poland, Denmark, Germany and Norway.

The other producing countries are Romania, Bulgaria, Morocco, the USA, Syria,Turkey and India. The major commercial sources of caraway in the world are the Netherlands and Germany, where it is extensively cultivated.

There are about 25 species of Carum known to occur and only Carum carvi L. has an economic importance, being used and cultivated in several regions. It is commonly called caraway.

Caraway as Spice

In a classification of plant organs used as spice, the caraway has been categorized as a seed spice because seeds (botanically fruits) are used as spice and condiment. As per the conventional classification of spices, out of five types, viz., hot spices, mild spices, aromatic spices, herbs and aromatic vegetables, caraway is classified as a mild spice and on the basis of plant organs used, it is known as seed because the dried fruits are mostly used as spices.

Description of Caraway

The caraway plant is an erect, herbaceous, biennial herb with a thick tuberous rootstock.The plant height varies from 0.5 to 1.0 m. The stem is cylindrical, robust, divertically branched, aromatic, straight and leafy. The leaves are pinnately compound and ultimately segments of lower leaves are lanceolate. Flowers are minute, borne in terminally or axillary compound umbels producing clusters of white flowers. The flowers have bracts 1-3, small, linear or none; calyx teeth 5, small or none; petals 5, notched, often enlarged and erect. Carpels are rounded and narrowed upwards. Fruits are brown,cremocarp, 3–6 mm long, ovoid or oblong, glabrous and laterally flattened. Seeds are dorsally flattened smooth or slightly grooved on the inner surface. The fruit when ripe splits into narrow, elongated carpels 4 to 6.5 mm long, curved, pointed at the ends with five longitudinal ridges on the surface. The seeds have a warm, sweet, slightly sharp taste and flavour. The sematic chromosome numbers are 2n-20.

Global Production & International Trade

Caraway is grown significantly on a large scale in the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Hungary, and Romania. The Netherlands has an outstanding position in the world for caraway production. Caraway is also produced by Sweden, Norway, Spain and Austria, however these countries are not major contributors to global supply of this spice.

From the last few decades, the production of caraway has shifted to new regions, such as Canada, USA, Finland, Syria and Morocco. The Carum carvi plant as natural flora is prevalent in North and Central Europe, England, East and Central France, South Spain, North Italy, Balkan Peninsula, Central Asia. It has spread as a result of human activity also in Holland, North Africa, North America and New Zealand.

The principal commercial source of caraway seed is the Netherlands. The seed is also cultivated in Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Britain, India, Morocco, Newfoundland, Poland, Romania, Russia, Syria and the USA. About 3500 metric tonnes of caraway seed and value added products are imported annually into the USA and about 80% of this tonnage arrives from the Netherlands, the remainder coming from Poland and Denmark. Switzerland and Austria get about 500 tonnes of caraway, 70% from the Netherlands and the remainder from Poland. The Netherlands, Poland and Germany are the major exporters in the world market and export caraway seed to the USA, Switzerland, Austria and Hungary. In India, caraway grows wild in the North Himalayan region and is cultivated as a winter crop in the plains and a summer crop in Kashmir, Kumaon, Garhwal and Chamba at attitudes of 2740 to 3660 m above mean sea level.

Average annual world production of caraway oil ranges from 30–40 t, with a total value of more than $1 million. Holland is one of the major producers and exporters of caraway essential oil. For many years Holland has been the world’s principal supplier of caraway seed and oil, but now the Netherlands has attained supreme position in the global market.

Around 30 t of essential oil of caraway is traded yearly in the world, the fifth largest amount amongst Apiaceace species. The world production of seeds may be assumed reach to around 15 thousand tonnes. Production, however, is rather variable and fluctuates from year to year both in quantities and in prices.

Production of caraway seed is significant in northern Europe, especially the Netherlands, and in Canada, the USA, Scandinavia, Russia and Germany. The tuberous roots of caraway are edible and somewhat popular especially among the inhabitants of higher hills in India and China, and further extending to the Caucasus, Persia, Tibet and Siberia. The major producers of winter-type caraway are the Netherlands, Poland, Hungary and Russia; the spring type is produced mainly by Syria, Morocco, Egypt and Western India.


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