It’s possible, that you may have heard of black seed oil before. Maybe, you’ve even caught a glimpse of it upon grocery store shelves or in the natural remedies section of your local health food store. Yet, much like myself, you’ve probably never taken a second glance at the shelf. Well, here’s your chance! Black seed oil could be the next health-conscious addition to your kitchen pantry.

What is Black Seed Oil?

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First off, black seed and black seed oil are often confused with its relation black cumin. While they stem from the same source, these products should be used differently for both herbal remedies and culinary uses.

Black seed oil is made from tiny black seeds originating from “a small flowering shrub with purple or white-tinged flowers” that is native to the Middle East and Eastern Europe, as well as western Asia. The flower is called the Nigella sativa, but the seeds go by many names including “black caraway, black seed, black cumin, fennel flower, nigella, nutmeg flower, Roman coriander, and kalonji.”

While the original use of black seeds is unknown, they have been found in archaeological sites from ancient Egypt, most notably in Tutankhamun’s tomb, as well as in Anatolian dig sites in second millennium BCE Turkey. There was also note of the seed and its corresponding oil being used as a traditional medicine by Avicenna, a Persian doctor known as the father of modern medicine, whose Canon of Medicine was used as the “standard medical textbook in the Islamic world and Europe up to the 18th.”

Health Benefits of Black Seed Oil

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Even though this ingredient is an ancient medicinal remedy, modern studies have shown that black seed oil has many possible health benefits. The health benefits are mostly accredited to the high phytochemical levels — chemical compounds created by plants — which are so strong that they have been more effective fighting “superbugs”, such as virulent strains of the flu, than antibiotics.

Cancer Fighting Phytochemicals

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Black seed oil contains high levels of antioxidants, as well as three specific potent cancer-fighting phytochemicals: thymoquinone, thymohydroquinone, and thymol.

Thymoquinone “acts as a free radical or an effective superoxide radical scavenger, in addition to preserving antioxidant enzymes.” These antioxidant enzymes are detoxifiers, specifically protecting your liver from toxins.

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Thymohydroquinone may be the most difficult to pronounce, but it’s also one of the most intriguing phytochemicals due to the fact that it is one of the “most potent natural acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors on the planet.” What’s an AChE? Simply put, they halt enzyme activity. AChE’s are used in medicines that treat Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, schizophrenia, to name just a few, as well as other neurodegenerative conditions.

Last, but not least, is thymol. Thymol is a monoterpene, which is part of the larger organic compound group referred to as terpenes. Terpenes are organic materials produced by plants (as well as some insects) that are used for protection from both herbivore predators and parasites. Monoterpene has been used in a variety of products, from treating tuberculosis to a medicinal disinfectant and even in “food flavorings, perfumes, mouthwashes, and even cosmetics.”

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Diabetes Prevention

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In a study by the Indian Council of Medical Research, published in the Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, black seed was found to improve “glucose tolerance as efficiently as metformin; yet it has not shown significant adverse effects and has very low toxicity.” Glucose tolerance refers to the body’s reaction and ability to process glucose (also called sugar). Those who have diabetes may have an inefficient response to glucose, therefore, black seed oil’s ability to boost this efficiency may help prevent and treat diabetes. While metformin is a useful medicinal aid for diabetes sufferers, it also causes negative side effects including headaches and heartburn, constipation or diarrhea, and even stomach and muscle pain.

Improves Cholesterol and Reduces Hypertension

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In August of 2008, the Department of Internal Medicine and Cardiology and Medicinal Plant Research Center at the Shahrekord University of Medical Sciences, conducted a “double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to evaluate the efficacy of treatment with an oral Nigella sativa (NS) seed extract” on people with hypertension, high blood pressure. The study revealed that two months of black seed extract use may help reduce LDL and total cholesterol levels, as well as “have a blood pressure-lowing effect.”

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Cooking with Black Seed Oil

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When it comes to incorporating black seed oil into your diet, you’ll want to find a great supplement. The oil is incredibly pungent and can oftentimes overpower the rest of your ingredients. When picking out a black seed oil supplement make sure to select a non-GMO and organic product, such as this non-GMO 500mg Black Seed Cumin Oil Supplement or this Kiva Organic Black Seed Oil supplement.

With that said, dried or raw black seeds can be used in recipes. Be aware that, just like the oil, black seeds have a strong bitter taste. They have been compared to a “combination of onions, black pepper, and oregano.” The dry-roasted seeds are most commonly used in curries, pulses, or salads and can be substituted for black pepper at times. They have also been used as a flavoring for bread and, strangely enough, pickles.

Here are a few ways to substitute black seeds into your favorite recipes!

Bread

No-Knead Nut and Seed Bread/One Green Planet

As mentioned above, it’s recommended to use black seeds in bread recipes. Raw black seeds are great to sprinkle on top and allow to dry roast in the oven while your bread rises or, if you have dried black seeds, simply mix them into the batter. You can add a burst of flavoring to simple recipes, such as this Gluten-Free High Fiber Bread, add a juxtapose flavor to unique recipes, such as this Sun-Dried Tomato and Rosemary Swirl Bread, or substitute or add to an already seed and nut heavy bread, such as this No-Knead Nut and Seed Bread or this Herbed Seed and Nut Bread.

Curry

Red Lentil and Spinach Coconut Curry/One Green Planet

Curry recipes are naturally infused with aromatic and pungent flavors such as turmeric, cumin, nutmeg, and cayenne. You can also beef up a curry by allowing veggies such as butternut squash, sweet potato, mushrooms, and greens to simmer and break apart, becoming a part of the curry itself. Due to the already strong flavoring, curries are great recipes to try your hand at black seeds! Choose curries that favor strong spices and sweet ingredients, such as this Instant Pot Tofu Mango Coconut Curry or this Quick Pumpkin and Carrot Curry. If you’re not a fan of sweet curries, then try adding black seeds to a legume heavy curry, such as Red Lentil and Spinach Coconut Curry or this simple Red Bean Curry, which will help subdue and balance the intense flavoring of your black seeds.

Salads

Warm Butternut, Red Cabbage, Quinoa and Almond Salad/One Green Planet

While you may be tempted to simply toss some black seeds on top of your favorite salad, I would recommend being choosy about which salad you decide to try your black seeds on. Remember, black seed has the flavoring of onions, oregano, and black pepper combined, therefore you’ll want to find complementary ingredients to balance these savory flavors. One option is to choose a ‘beefy’ salad, meaning a recipe that has lots of protein bulk to it such as this Lentil Salad with Crunchy Veggies and Herbs or this Warm Butternut, Red Cabbage, Quinoa and Almond Salad. If you’re seeking something light, but you also want to include those phytochemical-rich black seeds, try a recipe with intense, sweet flavors such as this Spinach Salad with Pistachios and Sun-Dried Tomatoes or this Berry Fennel Salad with Coconut Yogurt.

While these recommendations will get you started cooking with black seeds, try your hand at adding them to some of your other favorite recipes! We highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!

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