Spice Profile: Black Seed (Kalonji, Nigella Sativa, Charnushka)
Scientific Name Nigella Sativa
Charnushka means “black seed” in Russian, which translates to chernishke in Yiddish and schwarzkummel in German.
Also Known As
The rare spice is known by many names. It’s also referred to as nigella seed, black seed, black onion seed, onion seed, black caraway seed, black cumin, roman coriander, calonji, or kalonji. Despite having various names, the flavor of Charnushka is not similar to onion, cumin, coriander, or caraway seeds.
What is Black Seed?
Charnushka is deep black seeds with a sharp flavor and strong aroma. It has a broad flavor profile that is peppery but also a little sweet, slightly bitter, smoky, and nutty, with similarities to thyme and a touch of licorice.
It is a versatile and flexible spice that can be used in many dishes. You’ll find that different flavors stand out depending on your pairings in each dish. It’s a great spice to have in your spice rack to bring a subtle but different flavor to your cooking. And many people believe there are health benefits of eating black seeds.
How Can I Use Black Seed?
- Sprinkle on ripe tomatoes as a substitute for black pepper.
- Combine with herbs, such as thyme, to make a rub for baked chicken or to add a secret ingredient to slow roasted vegetables.
- Mix it together with other seeds, such as mustard, fennel, cumin, and fenugreek to great Panch Phoron, a popular blend used in Indian cuisine
- Add as bread topping to savory dishes.
- Add it to your favorite bread recipe, or try making original Indian Naan Bread, or Russian Rye Bread with Cranberries.
- Experiment! It combines well with allspice, coriander, and thyme. Try using it anywhere you would use caraway or cumin.
- Heat the seeds in oil or dry toast them to include them in wet-cooked dishes.
Grind the black seeds for dry cooking, such as roasting, to get a sweet aroma similar to black sesame paste and a more intense flavor.
Where can I get Black Seed?
Spice specialty stores carry Charnushka, Nigella Sativa. If you want to order it online, try Penzey’s.
Substitutes for Nigella Sativa
If you’re unable to get Nigella Sativa by any of its names (charnushka, black caraway seed, black cumin, kalonji, etc.), you can try a substitute for nigella seeds that will provide a similar flavor and texture:
- Sesame seeds (nutty flavor)
- Cumin seeds (nutty and peppery flavor)
- Celery seed (slightly bitter and peppery flavor)
What is the History of Nigella Sativa?
Not much is known about the history of Nigella Sativa, although it likely that it has been used since ancient times for both cooking and medicinal purposes. Charnushka is commonly used in European, Indian (kalonji or calonji), Israeli (chernishke), Lebanese, Armenian, Egyptian, Middle Eastern (nigella), Polish, Serbian, German (schwarzkummel) and Russian (charnushka) cooking.
Nigella sativa and black seed oil have been studied for its possible medicinal benefits for a variety of ailments, and is also believed to be an insect repellant.
How is Nigella Sativa Grown?
Nigella Sativa is the small black seed of a very unique looking flower from a plant from the Ranunculacae family. Wild versions of the plant grow in Turkey, Syria and Northern Iraq. The plant grows easily in Mediterranean climates. The flowers are pale blue or white and bloom in the spring.