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Definition: caraway from Philip's Encyclopedia

Biennial herb native to Eurasia and cultivated for its small, brown seed-like fruits that are used for flavouring foods. It has feathery leaves and white flowers. Family Apiaceae/Umbelliferae; species Carum carvi.

Summary Article: Caraway
from The Encyclopedia of Seeds: Science, Technology and Uses

Caraway (Carum carvi, Apiaceae) ‘seeds’ (actually fruits) are used as a spice and flavour. (See: Spices and flavours, Table S.12) The plant is a glabrous herb, biennial but cultivated as an annual: there are also true annual forms. The dried fruits of commerce are generally separate, one-seeded, yellow-brown, tapered and ridged mericarps, each 4-6 mm long (Fig. C.2).

Seeds of the biennial contain 3-7% essential oil obtained by steam distillation: annual caraway has slightly less. The oil contains mainly two monoterpenes, D-carvone and D-limonene, and traces of pinene, camphor, caveol and others. The characteristic flavour and the biological properties of caraway are mainly due to D-carvone. (See: Fig. S.44 in Spices and flavours)

The seed has a distinct warm, slightly sweet, very sharp, somewhat acrid but pleasant taste with a pleasant aroma: hence it is used as culinary spice, in flavouring food, breads, meat products, salads and sauces. It is especially popular in some European countries (e.g. The Netherlands, Germany) and, after coating with sugar, has been a popular confectionery known for sweetening the breath (once called ‘comfits’ in England). Caraway oil is used for flavouring liquors, in perfumery and in soaps. In the pharmaceutical industry it is mostly employed as a carminative and stomachic. Carvone isolated from caraway seed is used for the treatment of cancer. The essential oil is spasmolytic, anti-microbial, and applied for dyspeptic complaints such as mild gastro-intestinal spasm, bloating and fullness and helps to alleviate bowel spasm: it has antibacterial and larvicidal properties. Caraway julep was taken for the relief of nervous indigestion, flatulence and was sometimes given in cases of hysteria. A combination of caraway with the other carminative herbs, anise and fennel, has been shown to be helpful in dealing with conditions of flatulence, especially in children. Its actions are analgesic, anaesthetic, anodyne, anti-anxiety, antibacterial, anti-parasitic, antiseptic, diuretic, mildly expectorant, fungicidal, muscle relaxant, soporific, stimulant, tonic, urinary antiseptic. Caraway strengthens the urinary organs, soothes irritation and expels stones. It is also well known that this oil can help with menstrual cramps, is good for the skin and decreases bruising, as well as increasing the appetite and relieving dyspepsia. Laryngitis, bronchitis and coughs are easy targets for the soothing vapours of caraway. This oil has traditionally been used as a remedy for colds and can also promote milk secretion.

Fig. C.2. Caraway ‘seeds’ (image by Mike Amphlett, CABI).

  • Guenther, E. (1978) The Essential Oils, Vol. 2. Robert E. Krieger Publishing, New York, USA.
  • Peter, K.V. (ed.) (2001) Handbook of Herbs and Spices. Woodhead Publishing, CRC Press, UK.
  • Toxopeus, H. and Lubberts, J.H. (1999) Carum carvi L. In: de Guzman, C.C. and Siemonsma, J.S. (eds) Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 13. Spices. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, The Netherlands, pp. 91-94.
  • Weiss, E.A. (2002) Spice Crops. CAB International, Wallingford, UK.
  • Peter, Kuruppacharil V.

    Burbulis, Natalija
    © CAB International 2006.

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