Linda Crampton is an experienced teacher with an honors degree in biology. She writes about nutrition and the culture and history of food.
Delicious and Useful Seeds
Caraway seeds are a great addition to a healthy diet. They have a flavorful and complex taste and are very aromatic, especially when they're fresh. The seeds produce an intriguing mixture of taste sensations when they're chewed, including pungency, a mild sweetness, a faint taste of licorice, and a slightly minty background. They add interest and variety to many foods. I’ve enjoyed eating them since my childhood.
Caraway seeds are very popular in some parts of the world, including Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa. They are used as a flavor enhancer in both savory and sweet foods. They’re added to breads, crackers, cheeses, meats, stews and soups, fruits and vegetables, cakes, desserts, and even liqueurs.
The seeds have traditionally been eaten after a meal to soothe digestive problems such as cramps, indigestion, bloating, and flatulence. They reportedly act as a carminative—a substance that prevents gas from forming in the digestive tract or helps the gas to be expelled from the body. I’ve never used them for this purpose, though.
Here's a sneak peek of five ways you can use caraway seeds.
- oatmeal porridge
- caraway seed bread
- potato salad
- cheese spread
Caraway Plant Facts
The caraway plant belongs to the same family as carrots and parsnips (the Apiaceae or the Umbelliferae family) and is a biennial. In the first year of its life, it grows its roots. In the second year, it flowers. The plant has feathery leaves and small white or pink flowers. The flowers are born at the tips of stalks that are arranged like the ribs of an upturned umbrella, as shown in the illustration above.
The entire plant is edible. The brown "seeds" are actually a type of fruit called an achene. I refer to them as seeds in this article to match their culinary name. The leaves are used as a vegetable or as salad greens. The root is long and tapering and is cooked like carrots or parsnips.
Caraway is native to Europe, Western Asia, and Northern Africa but is grown as a cultivated plant in many countries. A wild form of caraway also exists and has become an invasive species in some areas. As is always the case when someone wants to collect wild plants to eat, the correct identification of the caraway plant is vital if it's going to be used for food. It should be collected in an area that is free of pesticides, pollutants, and other potentially dangerous chemicals.
1. Healthy Caraway Porridge
Porridge is a versatile meal and can be either sweet or savory. It can be made with oatmeal or other grains, which can be cooked in a variety of liquids. There are many additions that can be mixed into the porridge or added as toppings to change its taste, appearance, or nutritional value. Creating a porridge can be a very creative endeavor.
Oatmeal porridge makes a good breakfast and can also make a satisfying meal at other times of the day, depending on its serving size and its contents. Oats are a very healthy grain and contain a soluble fiber called beta-glucan. This fiber lowers the blood cholesterol level, which reduces the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots. Caraway seeds are a tasty addition to oatmeal porridge.
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How to Make Oatmeal Porridge with Caraway Seeds
To make oatmeal porridge I cook the grain in a saucepan on an oven burner, mixing the oatmeal with water (or another liquid, such as milk or fruit juice) in a 1:3 ratio of grain to water. I sometimes add grated apple or a small quantity of dried fruit to the oatmeal before I place it on the burner. In the cooked porridge, the hot apple produces a nice crunchy texture that contrasts with the soft oatmeal.
Once the oatmeal is ready to eat I add one or more extras, such as spices, seeds ground in a coffee grinder, a tablespoon of nut butter, another fruit, or a healthy sweetener (if necessary). Often a sweetener isn't necessary because other ingredients in the porridge provide sufficient sweetness.
The recipe for caraway spice porridge given below produces a very tasty and spicy porridge, which I love. If the recipe is too spicy for you, however, try reducing the quantity of the seeds and spices the next time you make the porridge.
Ingredients for One Serving of Caraway Spice Porridge
- 1/3 cup oatmeal
- 1 cup low fat milk (1% milk) or nondairy milk
- 1 small apple, coarsely grated or finely chopped
- 1 small banana, sliced
- 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, ground
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger, ground
- 1 tablespoon all-fruit orange marmalade
- Place the oatmeal, milk, and grated apple in a saucepan.
- Place the saucepan on a burner and cover with a lid.
- Bring the oatmeal and milk mixture to a gentle simmer at a medium temperature. Allow the mixture to simmer for five to seven minutes until the oatmeal is soft and looks creamy. Stir frequently with a wooden spoon.
- Remove the oatmeal from the heat and turn off the burner. Stir in the seeds, the spices, the banana slices, and the marmalade.
- Add a small amount of water or another liquid if necessary to get the desired consistency in the porridge, then serve.
2. Caraway Seed Bread
Caraway seeds are often added to rye breads. The taste of the seeds complements the taste of the rye very nicely. Whole-grain rye bread has a strong flavor and is dark and dense. Some rye breads are made from rye kernels that have had their bran removed, resulting in a milder tasting, lighter textured, and lighter colored bread.
White rye contains soluble fiber and rye bran contains insoluble fiber. Both types of fiber are a healthy addition to a diet. Soluble fiber reduces the amount of LDL cholesterol (the so-called "bad" cholesterol) in the blood. It also helps to lower a high blood sugar level. Insoluble fiber helps move material through the intestine and can bulk up the stool and relieve constipation. It may also reduce the risk of colon cancer, although this hasn't been confirmed. Some studies show that insoluble fiber does decrease the incidence of colon cancer while others show that it has no effect on cancer risk.
I do occasionally find a rye bread that contains caraway seeds in my local stores, but usually, I buy a sprouted grain seed bread that includes caraway. This bread resembles a cake, although it doesn't contain flour or added fat and sugar.
3. Traditional Sauerkraut
Traditional sauerkraut is made from cabbage that is fermented by lactic acid bacteria and yeasts that occur naturally on cabbage leaves. The cabbage leaves are mixed with salt and the natural fermentation process is allowed to occur. The lactic acid made by the bacteria produces an acidic and very tasty food and helps to preserve the sauerkraut.
Caraway seeds are often added to traditional sauerkraut, which is usually sold in the refrigerated section of health food stores. Juniper berries may be added as well. Sauerkraut bought in supermarkets and regular groceries is generally made of cabbage packed in vinegar and isn't fermented.
Potential Health Benefits of Natural Sauerkraut
The cabbage in sauerkraut gives us chemicals known as isothiocyanates, which have been shown to protect against cancer in lab animals and seem to have the same effect in humans. Raw cabbage is also an excellent source of vitamins K and C and is a good source of folate. It also provides us with calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, and fiber. The lactic acid bacteria in unpasteurized sauerkraut may be beneficial in our body, although this is an area that requires more research. Sauerkraut has one disadvantage, however—it's high in sodium.
I buy my traditional sauerkraut from a health food store. Some people like to produce their own sauerkraut, but if you do this it's very important to use sterile equipment. The only bacteria and yeast populations that should grow in the cabbage culture are the potentially beneficial types or neutral kinds. The development of a harmful microorganism population could be dangerous.
4. Healthy Potato Salad
I love potato salad. I generally use an oil and vinegar dressing on the salad instead of mayonnaise. A good ratio of oil to vinegar in the dressing is three parts oil to one part vinegar or citrus juice.
My potato salads generally contain the following ingredients, which I gently mix together. I use only a small quantity of dressing in order to add flavor without soaking the potatoes in oil. I often add caraway seeds to the salad because I think their taste enhances the mixture.
- Cooked and chilled slices or chunks of purple or red potatoes or of potatoes with yellow flesh, such as the Yukon gold variety; skins are left on
- Extra virgin olive oil mixed with a flavorful vinegar or lemon juice as well as Dijon mustard
- Chopped chives, green onions, red onion, or garlic
- Black pepper or another type of seasoning, such as cayenne pepper or paprika
- Chopped herbs, such as parsley, basil, tarragon, or dill
- Caraway seeds
- Nutritional yeast (if I have any on hand) to provide B vitamins and a slightly cheesy taste.
5. Low-Fat Caraway Cheese Spread
Adding caraway seeds to cheese produces a lovely combination of flavors. Caraway cheeses can be bought in markets that have a large cheese display, but they are generally high in saturated fat. These are a nice treat for special occasions, but they're not suitable for regular use if you're trying to follow a healthy diet.
I make caraway cheese spreads from a base of low-fat cream cheese. I don't follow a recipe but simply mix the cream cheese with whatever I have in the kitchen. Caraway seeds make a great addition to the spread. Some other possible additions are:
- chopped green onion, chives, or garlic
- chopped olives
- a small quantity of a prepared sauce
- mustard, horseradish, or wasabi
- black pepper, cayenne pepper, chili pepper, or paprika
- dulse or kelp granules
- savory spices, such as cumin or turmeric
- chopped herbs, such as basil, sage, oregano, or tarragon
- seeds, such as sesame, ground sunflower seeds, or ground pumpkin seeds
- nutritional yeast
Wasabi is a plant in the horseradish and mustard family (the Brassicaceae or the Cruciferae family). Like its relatives, wasabi has a pungent taste and can be an interesting addition to a meal.
Seed Cake and Other Desserts
There are additional foods that benefit from the addition of caraway seeds, including cakes and other desserts. Some of these foods can't be classified as healthy items, but they are delicious treats for special occasions. It's sometimes possible to make a dessert healthier without sacrificing taste.
The seeds are used to make a caraway seed cake, which generally contains white flour, sugar, butter, and eggs as well as the seeds. Citrus fruits like oranges or lemons work well in cakes containing caraway. A caraway seed cake is sometimes known as just a seed cake and was a traditional dessert in my UK childhood.
The seeds can also provide an enjoyable taste in muffins and cookies. With the right ingredients and in limited amounts, muffins can be healthy. In some countries, caraway pudding is popular. Some people even include the toasted seeds in homemade ice cream.
Following a Healthy Diet
Since caraway seeds are generally eaten in small servings, they don’t contribute a large quantity of nutrients to the body. Even a food containing small amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can be a useful addition to the diet, however.
If you're struggling to follow a healthy diet, one thing that should be helpful is to make your food very tasty. This will probably help you to enjoy eating your meals and make you less likely to miss delicious but unhealthy foods. Adding herbs, spices, and flavorful seeds like caraway to your meals are very effective ways to make food interesting as well as healthy.
- Nutrients in caraway seeds from SELF Nutrition Data
- Cholesterol-lowering effects of oat beta-glucan from the Nutrition Reviews journal and Oxford Academic
- Benefits of soluble and insoluble fiber from WebMD
- Information about dietary fiber from the Mayo Clinic
- Nutrients in raw cabbage from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture)
- Facts about isothiocyanates from Oregon State University
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Linda Crampton