Nigella (also known as Nigella sativa, black caraway, black cumin and kalonji) is an annual flowering plant in the family Ranunculaceae, native to south and southwest Asia. Nigella grows to 20–30cm tall, with finely divided, linear leaves. The flowers are delicate, and usually coloured pale blue and white, with five to ten petals. The fruit is a large and inflated capsule composed of three to seven united follicles, each containing numerous black seeds which are used as spice.
Nigella seeds are most widely used in spice in Indian, Middle Eastern and Polish cuisines. The seeds taste like a combination of onions, black pepper, and oregano with a pungent, bitter taste and smell. In Palestine the seeds are ground to make qizha paste.
The dry-roasted seeds flavour curries, vegetables, and pulses. They can be used as a seasoning in recipes with pod fruit, vegetables, salads, and poultry. In some cultures, the black seeds are used to flavour bread products, and are used as part of the spice mixture panch phoron (meaning a mixture of five spices) and alone in many recipes in Bengali cuisine and most recognisably in naan bread. Nigella is also used in Armenian string cheese, a braided string cheese called majdouleh or majdouli in the Middle East.
Nigella extract is found to be rich in antioxidants and flavonoids and is known to have several health benefits including the removal of toxins from the body. The oil of Nigella is also gaining popularity because it is naturally found, has health benefits and unlike many other artificially synthesised food products, is chemical free.
With the increasing health concerns amongst people, the consumption of herbal food products has increased. People adopting healthier lifestyles is therefore one of the major reasons that the global market of Nigella is growing at a higher rate.