Cumin and curcumin -- two spices with similar-sounding names -- have many qualities in common. Both are used in Indian cuisine to flavor curry powder, and both are valued in the Ayurvedic healing system for their ability to stimulate digestion, as well as their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Both herbs are being investigated for their potential in fighting chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Far from being the same substance, they have different flavors, appearances, properties and constituents.
Unlike curcumin, which is obtained from the root of the turmeric plant, cumin is a seed-derived spice. Botanically known as Cuminum cyminum and also known as jeera in Ayurvedic medicine, cumin is native to the eastern Mediterranean area and is used in Middle Eastern, Indian, North African and South American cuisines. The seeds have been used in folk medicine since antiquity to promote digestion and treat flatulence, diarrhea, toothache, scorpion stings and jaundice. Cumin is generally recognized as safe when used as a spice, but it can interact with prescription medications. Consult your doctor before using cumin.
Cumin Constituents and Effects
Cumin is 5 percent volatile oil, which is made up mostly of aldehydes. Cumin also contains flavonoid glycosides -- including apigenin and luteolin -- and the antioxidants eugenol and limonene, as well as sesquiterpenes. Cumin is rich in iron, providing 11.7 milligrams in every 100 grams; it also contains the trace minerals manganese and zinc. Like the curcumin in turmeric, cumin is a carminative, meaning that it can reduce bloating and gas. The cuminaldehyde in cumin helps promote digestion by activating saliva secretion, according to Drugs.com, which also notes that cumin has possible antioxidant, anticancer, blood sugar-lowering and antibacterial properties. In a laboratory study published in 2002 in "Phytotherapy Research," researchers found that essential oils from cumin had effective antibacterial activity against eight pathogenic bacteria, with an effect equal to -- and even superior to -- conventional antibiotics.
Curcumin is the pharmacologically active constituent in turmeric, a member of the ginger family botanically known as Curcumin longa and cultivated throughout Asia. Turmeric, sometimes referred to as Indian saffron, features oblong leaves, yellow funnel-shaped flowers and a fibrous, brownish-orange root, which is dried, powdered and used as a pungent seasoning in curry and mustard. Turmeric is prized in Ayurveda -- where it is known as haldi -- and has been used traditionally to treat flatulence, fungal skin diseases, hemorrhage, jaundice and hepatitis. You can ingest curcumin simply by consuming turmeric; curcumin is also available as a dietary supplement. Turmeric is recognized as generally safe when used as a food. Rare allergic reactions have been reported, Drugs.com notes. Consult your doctor before using turmeric or curcumin, and don't use it if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Curcumin Constituents and Effects
Curcumin is the plant pigment responsible for the color of the turmeric root, which is yellowish on the outside and a brilliant reddish orange inside. Curcumin is unique in that its chemical structure contains two distinct antioxidant functionalities, which gives it its exceptional disease-fighting properties. Drugs.com reports that curcumin has cancer-inhibiting properties, and has been shown to reduce the urinary excretion of mutagens in cigarette smokers. Like cumin, curcumin has anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antispasmodic and carminative effects. Blue Shield Complementary and Alternative Health characterizes turmeric as a digestive tonic that may work by relieving spasms in the intestinal tract.
Carol Sarao is an entertainment and lifestyle writer whose articles have appeared in Atlantic City Weekly, The Women's Newspaper of Princeton, and New Millennium Writings. She has interviewed and reviewed many national recording acts, among them Everclear, Live, and Alice Cooper, and received her Master of Fine Arts degree in writing from Warren Wilson College.