A frequent addition to spice cabinets, caraway seeds are actually the dried fruit of the caraway plant. Nevertheless, they're commonly referred to as seeds in the culinary world. If you've ever eaten rye bread, you no doubt tasted caraway seeds.
Mostly popular in European cuisines, caraway can be found in British seed cake, caraway-flavoured spirits like German Kummel, Tunisian tabil (spice blend), cheeses, stews, sausages, cabbage dishes, and pickle brine. The size of the seed is perfect for using whole in many recipes, and caraway also works great with fruit.
Where does it come from?
The origins of the name caraway come from the Arabic al-karwiya seeds; which some presume is the origin of the Latin word carvi and from Caria, where caraway may have first been used.
The history of caraway dates back to the Stone Age, and the plant itself was native to Central Europe through Asia. Today, it’s cultivated mainly in Holland, but also Finland, Eastern Europe, Germany, Canada, the United States, and North Africa.
What does it taste like?
Think of a cross between cumin and fennel, with hints of anise that adds a welcome and subtle liquorice hint to many dishes. Caraway seeds are highly aromatic and have a distinctive, lingering flavour, which brings an earthy, fresh and sweet element t0 a variety of dishes, developing a layer of complexity in both taste and texture.
Any folklore related to it?
Well yes, actually. In German folklore, parents placed a dish of caraway seeds beneath their children’s beds to protect them from witches. The belief was that any object containing caraway could not be stolen.
The history of caraway also has a romantic side. Caraway was once used in love potions, as an aide in preventing fickleness. Caraway seeds were also added to chicken feed in hopes of keeping them from wandering off, and is still sometimes given to homing pigeons.
During Elizabethan times caraway was used as a condiment and is mentioned in Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part Two.
For a period caraway became unpopular but it saw a revival during the reign of Queen Victoria when all things German became fashionable. (Caraway is often used in sauerkraut, sausages, dumplings, and a number of other German dishes.)
What are some of its uses?
Traditional uses for caraway include Aquavit (Scandinavia); Harissa (Tunisia) Jewish rye breads/German pumpernickel breads (Europe and Israel); Pain d’epices or gingerbread (France); and cabbage borscht (Central Europe). And, of course, our delicious loaf.