Botanical name: Trachyspermum ammi âª Family name: Umbelliferae
Ajowan is a seed spice from a small annual plant resembling wild parsley, and closely related to caraway and cumin. It is grown mainly for the extraction of its oil, which contains a high level of thymol.
Native range: India
Major producers: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt
Harvesting: Ajowan stalks are cut in May or June when the seeds are ripe, then dried and threshed.
Taste and aroma: The taste is hot and bitter (due to thymol). When crushed, ajowan seeds have a strong distinctive thyme-like bouquet. They can be used as a substitute for thyme, but should be added sparingly as they are stronger in flavour than thyme.
Culinary uses: Ajowan is typically used in savoury Indian recipes, but should be added in small quantities as the taste is hot and bitter. Ajowan seeds should be bruised before use to release their flavour. They are easily ground in a mortar.
Other uses: Ajowan has numerous medicinal properties and in India the seeds are used to ease asthma and indigestion. Its thymol content makes ajowan a potent fungicide.
Storage: Ajowan seeds will keep indefinitely in an airtight container.