Caraway seeds are actually the dried fruit of the caraway plant. It is a unique spice long used in cooking and herbal medicine. Superstitions held that caraway had the power to prevent the theft of any object that contained the seed and to keep lovers from losing interest in one another.
It is slightly bitter and is reminiscent of licorice, coriander, anise, and fennel. It can be used whole or ground in both sweet and savory dishes, such as breads, pastries, curries, and stews. It’s sometimes infused into spirits and liqueurs as well.
When used medicinally, caraway can be made into a tea or taken as a supplement. You can also apply its essential oils to your skin .
Caraway has been used to treat several digestive conditions, including indigestion and stomach ulcers. A handful of small human studies show that caraway oil relaxes your digestive tract’s smooth muscle tissue, relieving indigestion symptoms like gas, cramping, and bloating.
One test-tube study revealed that caraway essential oil blocked the growth of harmful gut bacteria while leaving beneficial bacteria untouched. These good bacteria produce nutrients, reduce inflammation, improve digestion, and support your immune health. Another test-tube study found that caraway extract fought H. pylori, a bacterium known to cause stomach ulcers and digestive inflammation.
Taking caraway oil as part of a specific combination with peppermint oil seems to relieve heartburn, including symptoms of fullness and mild gastrointestinal (GI) spasms, about as well as a drug called cisapride. Unfortunately, this peppermint oil/caraway oil combination is not available in the US. Another combination product that contains caraway plus clown’s mustard plant, peppermint leaf, German chamomile, licorice, milk thistle, angelica, celandine, and lemon balm (Iberogast, Medical Futures, Inc) also seems to improve symptoms of upset stomach. This combination seems to significantly help acid stomach, cramping, nausea, and vomiting.
Caraway is used for other digestive problems including bloating, gas, loss of appetite, and mild spasms of the stomach and intestines. Caraway oil is also used to help people cough up phlegm, improve control of urination, kill bacteria in the body, and relieve constipation.
Women use caraway oil to start menstruation and relieve menstrual cramps; nursing mothers use it to increase the flow of breast milk.
Caraway is used in mouthwashes and in skin rubs to improve local blood flow.
Caraway provides a wide variety of essential nutrients, several of which are lacking in Western diets. These include iron, zinc, calcium, and fiber. It is a rich supply of health-promoting antioxidants, including limonene and carvone.
Just 1 tablespoon of caraway provides:
- Calories: 22
- Protein: 1.3 grams
- Fat: 0.9 grams
- Carbs: 3.34 grams
- Fiber: 2.6 grams
- Copper: 6.7% of the DV
- Iron: 6.1% for women
- Magnesium: 5.4% of the DV
- Manganese: 4.8% for women
- Calcium: 3.6% of the DV
- Zinc: 4.6% for women
In manufacturing, caraway oil is used to flavor certain medications. It is also commonly used as a fragrance in toothpaste, soap, and cosmetics. Caraway comes in various forms, including the whole fruit (or seed), capsules, essential oils, and extracts.
Most types are ingested, but oil formulations diluted to 2% can be safely applied to unbroken skin.
No clear dosage recommendation has been established, but some research suggests that 1/2 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of whole caraway divided into 3 daily doses is likely safe and effective.
How to Buy
Whole and ground caraway are both available at grocery stores in the spice aisle. Caraway leaves and caraway root are less common. The dried leaves can sometimes be purchased from online retailers, or from herb specialty shops. The root can sometimes be found at farmers’ markets.
How to Store
The best way to store caraway, both whole and ground, is to keep them in airtight containers in a cool, dry place. You can store whole caraway in the refrigerator if you really want to prolong its shelf-life. But for the most part, as long as you keep your spices away from sunlight and away from the heat of your stove, and keep them sealed in airtight glass jars, you will keep them fresh. Whole caraway will keep much longer than the ground version, so if you want to use it in its ground form, it’s best to grind or crush the seeds yourself.
How to Cook
Although the whole seed is frequently used, sometimes you’ll want to impart caraway’s distinctive flavor without the crunch of the whole seed. In this case, ground caraway can be used. The ground version is more potent, so if a recipe calls for one teaspoon of whole caraway, you would substitute a scant 3/4 teaspoon of the ground version.
Besides the seeds, caraway leaves are sometimes used as an herb, both fresh and dried, adding them to salads, soups, and stews much like parsley. The root is sometimes also eaten as a vegetable, similar to celery root.
Caraway seeds are frequently used in baking. The seeds found in most types of rye and soda bread are caraway, and they are a traditional ingredient in a British seed cake. Caraway seeds are also used in flavoring curries, soups, sausages, vegetables, and even liqueurs, such as the Scandinavian spirit aquavit. They’re sometimes used for pickling and brining as well. Caraway seeds pair well with garlic and cabbage. Ways to use caraway seeds include:
- Add a pinch to any tomato-based sauce or soup.
- Sprinkle over roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes.
- Mix into a vegan cheese dip.
- Sprinkle onto baked apples to enhance the flavor.
- Add to shortbread cookies or Irish soda bread cookies.
- Add caraway seeds to potato salad or coleslaw.
- Add to any recipe that includes cabbage.