Guide to caraway - how to use caraway seeds in cooking with some recipe ideas.

Caraway is best known for its tiny highly flavoured seeds, which are most commonly recognized as the flavour in rye bread.

Extremely popular in central and northern European cuisines in particular, it has been said that caraway seeds are the oldest and longest used spice in Europe, with records dating back to Thebes, the ancient capital of Egypt, in 1552 BC.

Long known for their digestive properties, caraway seeds are often partnered with rich foods that are not usually easy to digest, such as animal proteins including duck or pork or vegetables that may cause wind and digestive discomfort, for example cabbage or beetroot.
Caraway seeds are fairly sharp in flavour and are sometimes likened to cumin and anise. They do have a hint of sweetness but have a predominantly savoury taste.

The caraway plant

The caraway plant is native to S.E. Europe and is nowadays cultivated in central and northern Europe and in some areas of North Africa. Holland is the main producer of the caraway plant, however Germany is the biggest consumer of caraway seeds.

The caraway plant (Carum carvi) is a member of the parsley family. The seeds, which are actually the fruit of the plant, are dried and sold as caraway seeds and they are the most important part of the plant in terms of cooking and medicine.

Incidentally, the leaves of the caraway plant can be added to salads and soups, whilst the plant roots can be prepared, cooked and eaten much the same way as a root vegetable such as parsnip or carrot.

The history of caraway

As mentioned above, caraway is one of the oldest and first spices to be cultivated and used in Europe. Egyptians buried their dead with caraway, as this was thought to protect them against evil spirits and young Greek women used to rub the essential oil obtained from the seeds into their skin to promote a glowing and healthy-looking skin.

One of the most popular folk stories that still holds true today is that caraway has powers that stop things or people from going astray or being stolen.

For this reason, caraway was often made into a love potion, to stop lovers from being unfaithful or from being stolen from them.

Farmers often gave their animals and fowl caraway seeds in their food to stop them from wandering off or getting lost. And even today, some bird keepers keep a piece of caraway dough in their barns or cages for the same reason.

The therapeutic properties of caraway

Caraway has always been known as a digestive and as having a beneficial effect on the stomach.

Even in Roman times, caraway seeds were chewed on after eating a heavy meal in order to relieve gas, indigestion and any other stomach pains.

Caraway is often added to cough medicines as it contains components that ease coughs and bronchitis.

Other therapeutic qualities of caraway include:
  • Caraway is said to relieve period pains and even labour pains.
  • When used as a gargle, caraway can ease a sore throat and laryngitis.
  • It helps restore a loss of appetite, which is helpful in people with eating problems.
  • Caraway is known to promote the production of breast milk.
  • When used in conjunction with peppermint, studies have shown that caraway has been helpful in relieving Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

Culinary uses of caraway

Caraway seeds are most popular in central European cooking, and this is reflected in the type of dishes that they are found in.

They are used to flavour rye bread and certain cheeses and together with cumin, are also a main component of the spicy liqueur Kummel.

Caraway seeds go very well with pork and other fatty meats and they are often added to goulash and casseroles. When partnered with garlic and olive oil and then rubbed over a pork joint and roasted, they make up the popular German dish "Schweinebraten", a German-style roast pork.

Below are some more ideas on how to use your caraway seeds:
  • Add caraway seeds to bread, muffin and scone dough.
  • Sprinkle lightly toasted seeds over your salads, particularly potato or cheese salad.
  • Sprinkle caraway seeds over bread with olive oil.
  • Caraway is a main ingredient of the German "sauerkraut".
  • Sprinkle caraway seeds over cream cheese on bread or toast.
  • Caraway seeds add a spicy flavour to a plain carrot salad.
  • Caraway seeds may be added to some spicy biscuit or cake mixtures.
  • The seeds are often added to pickling mixtures.
  • Add caraway seeds to cheese omelettes or even macaroni cheese.
  • Add seeds to coleslaw and other dishes made with cabbage. This will help the digestion of the cabbage.
  • Caraway is often paired with apple, in either sweet or savoury dishes.
  • Caraway is one of the ingredients of the Tunisian hot paste accompaniment to meat and fish "harissa".
  • Add to sausage meat mixtures or pork pâtés.
  • Add caraway seeds to dumpling dough.
  • Caraway seeds can be added to lentil soup or lentil stew after cooking.

Caraway Recipes

A number of recipes for using caraway seeds in cooking, including naan bread, baked fennel with caraway in a creamy sauce and caraway biscuits.

Baked Fennel and Caraway in a Creamy Sauce

The caraway seeds compliment the flavour of the baked fennel and the breadcrumb topping gives extra depth and texture. This is a good recipe if you are looking for something different to do with your fennel.

  • 2 sliced fennel bulbs
  • 5 fl oz (140 ml) of single cream
  • 5 fl oz (140 ml) of milk
  • 4½ oz (125 g) of soft cheese
  • 2 oz (55 g) of butter
  • 2 oz (55 g) of fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 2 tbsp of lemon juice
  • 2 tsp of caraway seeds
  • salt and pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
  2. Bring a medium sized saucepan full of water to the boil and add the sliced fennel and the lemon juice.
  3. Boil for about 3 minutes and then drain.
  4. Place the fennel slices into a greased ovenproof dish.
  5. In a large mixing bowl beat the soft cheese until it becomes smooth and soft.
  6. Stir in the cream, milk and beaten egg. Whisk all of the ingredients together by hand or with an electric hand whisk until a smooth sauce forms.
  7. Pour the sauce over the fennel slices.
  8. Melt ¼ of the butter in a small frying pan and add the caraway seeds. Fry for several minutes so that the seeds release their flavour and aroma.
  9. Sprinkle the seeds over the fennel.
  10. Melt the remainder of the butter in the frying pan and then add the breadcrumbs.
  11. Fry the breadcrumbs over a gentle heat until they brown slightly.
  12. Remove from the heat and top the fennel with the breadcrumbs.
  13. Place into the preheated oven and bake for 25 - 30 minutes.
  14. Remove from the oven and serve immediately.

Homemade Indian Naan Bread

Make your own naan bread to accompany a homemade curry or biryani using this simple recipe.

  • 1 lb 1 oz (500 g) of strong white flour
  • 1 fl oz (30 ml) of olive oil
  • ½ oz (15 g) of fresh yeast
  • ¼ oz (5 g) of salt
  • 1 tsp of caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp of cumin seeds
  • water
  1. Mix together the flour, salt, olive oil and yeast in a large mixing bowl.
  2. Add enough water to combine the ingredients together and knead into a soft and elastic dough ball.
  3. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave in a warm place for an hour or until the dough rises significantly.
  4. Place the dough onto a clean surface and insert the caraway and cumin seeds into the dough with your fingers.
  5. Knead the dough so that the seeds get integrated into the mixture.
  6. Divide the dough into three and roll out into rounds of about 10-inch in diameter. You should be able to make 8 rounds from the dough.
  7. Leave the dough to rest for 5 minutes.
  8. In the meantime, heat a little olive oil in a frying pan and once the pan is hot enough add a dough disc.
  9. Fry the bread on both sides, so that each side is lightly browned.
  10. Set aside and keep warm whilst you fry the remaining naan bread dough rounds.

Caraway Biscuits

This recipe is derived from a recipe for Shrewsbury biscuits that originated in 1819.

  • 8 oz (225 g) of plain flour
  • 4 oz (115 g) of caster sugar
  • 4 oz (115 g) of butter
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp of rose water
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 1 tsp of caraway seeds
  • ½ tsp of nutmeg
  1. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, caraway seeds and nutmeg into a large bowl and mix together.
  2. Rub the fat into the flour mixture with your fingertips until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. In a cup or small bowl, beat together the egg and the rose water and then add to the flour mixture.
  4. Combine all of the ingredients together until a dough is formed.
  5. Lightly flour a clean flat surface. Roll out the dough and then shape it into a long sausage form.
  6. Cover in cling film and refrigerate for about an hour.
  7. Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C).
  8. Lightly grease two baking trays and set aside.
  9. Remove the dough from the fridge and with a sharp knife cut thin round slices starting from one end of the dough.
  10. Place onto the baking sheets, leaving spaces between and around each biscuit.
  11. Bake in the oven for approximately 10 minutes or until golden brown.
  12. Remove from the oven and transfer to a cooling rack. Allow to cool before serving.

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