What spice was once thought not only to prevent a thief from removing any item which contained it, but also to render the thief himself unable to leave the house? If you said caraway you are correct!
It’s not clear why caraway was deemed to have this staying power, but it’s flavor is known to be irresistible to certain birds. Cakes studded with the seeds were fed to pigeons and other fowl to keep them from straying. Perhaps that’s why it was also a frequent ingredient in love potions–to keep lovers from flying the coop! Modern herbalists are more likely to use it in remedies for indigestion, flatulence or colic in babies. As with so many other spices and herbs, caraway seeds are also packed with anti-oxidant, cancer-fighting compounds, minerals and vitamins–particularly A, C, E and b-complex.
Caraway is a hardy, biennial, umbelliferous flowering plant native to Asia, and Northern and Central Europe. There is evidence that caraway was used for culinary purposes as early as the Stone Age 5,000 years ago. 2000 years ago the Romans were cultivating and selling it to most of the civilized world. The entire plant is considered edible and although its fallen out of fashion, in ancient times the root was used much as you would a parsnip. The leaves can also be used in salads or stews. Caraway seeds are actually the fruit of the plant which grow in clusters which must be harvested at night or early in the morning while dew still clings to them or they will break apart and scatter. The plant is related to dill, parsley and fennel with which it shares some medicinal properties, but its main use is as a culinary flavoring.
Caraway has a highly aromatic, warm, spicy and slightly peppery flavor. In central Europe, especially in Jewish cuisine, it is used to flavor rye breads, crackers, sausages, cabbage, noodles and soups. In Germany and Austria its used in roast pork, sauerkraut and pumpernickel. In Alsace caraway lends its flavor to Munster cheese. It’s also an essential ingredient of two North African spice blends, harissa and tabil and is used to flavor the Scandinavian spirit aquavit and the German Kümmel.
If you’re boiling cabbage or cauliflower, tie up some seeds in a bit of cheesecloth. It will both flavor the vegetables and diminish some of the smell. Sprinkle caraway seeds on top of baked breads or biscuits, add to cheese spreads, roasted vegetables, or baked apples. When adding caraway to soups or stews avoid long cooking which can cause the seeds to become bitter. Add the crushed or whole seeds only 15 minutes before you take the pot off the stove.