Ancient Romans and Greeks used cumin medicinally as a digestive aid and in cosmetics to create a wan, pale, pallid complexion. In ancient Rome, cumin was not only a valued spice, but it was also a symbol of avarice and greed. In the more educated and discreet power circles of ancient Rome, Marcus Aurelius and Antoninus Pius – emperors with a reputation for their avarice – were privately nicknamed “Cuminus.”
Roman and Greek kitchens of antiquity valued cumin as a good substitute for black pepper, which was very expensive and not widely available.
In Europe’s Middle Ages, cumin was a common household spice which also symbolised love and fidelity. People attending weddings carried cumin in their pockets and soldiers’ wives packed bread baked with cumin in their husbands’ knapsacks.
Ground cumin, pepper and honey – mixed well and served as a tonic – was considered an aphrodisiac and it was used to strengthen the bonds of love in certain Arabic cultures.