I have always wondered why onion seeds are called so. Haven’t you? For they have nothing to do with onions. Onions are bulbs that grow underground. Never mind, what difference does that make to the flavour of these tiny jet black seeds? Better known as kalonji, these little seeds pack in a punch that spreads its aroma through the house when it is added to hot oil.
It is also known as nigella seeds and have a bitter taste. They are used primarily in confectionery and liquors.
Though there is not much archaeological or written evidence about the earliest cultivation of nigella, it is said that they have been found in several sites from ancient Egypt, including Tutankhamun's tomb. Whether or not they played any role in building up the Egyptian culture, it is said that the items entombed with a pharaoh were carefully selected to assist him in the afterlife.
The earliest written reference one can find is in the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, where the reaping of nigella and wheat is contrasted.
In the Unani Tibb system of medicine, black cumin is regarded as a valuable remedy for a number of diseases.
In the Middle East and Southeast Asian countries these seeds have been traditionally used to treat a variety of ailments. When tied up in small bungles and rubbed until warm, they give out an aroma that can open clogged sinuses the same way as eucalyptus does. They also help fight against respiratory ailments.
With antihistamine properties, they can be used to good benefit to treat allergies. Also being an anti-oxidant, they help clean the body of harmful toxins. They provide a good supply of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Onion seeds play a key role in maintaining good health. They not only help in regulating the metabolism, they also balance insulin levels, regulate cholesterol, improve body circulation, and promote healthy liver function. People suffering from stomach worms can resort to these seeds to get relief.
They are used primarily in confectionery and liquors. Popularly used in the making of naans and some other Indian breads, they not only add a wonderful flavour but give a nice visual effect as they stand out prominently on those golden background of the breads and biscuits.
They may be added to any curry or stew or even to dal. They are one of the spices used in paanch phoron which is a mix of five spices. The other four being cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. Paanch phoron is extensively used in Bengali cuisine.