Kalonji, which may also be called nigella, refers to small black seeds grown on Kalonji bushes, which are grown widely through India. The plant may have originally been grown in Turkey and/or Italy, but according to herbal lore has been grown in India for several millennia. Kalonji is both flavoring, added to a variety of traditional foods, and an herbal remedy that has been touted as the magic bullet for a variety of ailments.
Kalonji seeds are about the same size as sesame seeds, though they have a more triangular instead of oval shape. In foods, you’ll find kalonji seeds in a variety of recipes. They may be added to traditional Indian flatbread (naan), any type of curry or stew, and to dal. Lovers of these little black seeds praise their nutlike, somewhat peppery taste. To make this taste most evident, kalonji may be prepared first by being roasted in a pan. Due to the high oil content, it is unnecessary to add other oils during the roasting process.
Sometimes the seeds are used to make oil. It’s rare to find such oil outside of India or Arabic countries, but you can order it online. It’s normally used more as an herbal remedy than as cooking oil, and may be present in a variety of lotions or ointments to treat skin conditions.
Some of the ailments which kalonji purportedly cures include:
- Common cold
- Male pattern baldness
- Facial paralysis
- Kidney and Bladder stones
- Heart Palpitations
The list of supposed cures is extremely extensive and nigella is said to cure anything short of death or plague. These are obviously inflated claims with little evidence to prove any truth regarding most of them. The use of these black seeds may be helpful as a laxative because of their high oil content, and the oil made from the seeds might be helpful in treating dry skin. Beyond that, most of the purported herbal remedies are based on slim and anecdotal evidence, with little Western medical evidence in the form of double-blind clinical trials to support claims of the magic cures the seeds supposedly offer.
Despite dubious claims regarding health benefits, these black seeds can be a tasty addition to foods, and if they do promote health, this may be the ideal use of kalonji. Consider topping breads with kalonji, adding a few seeds to soups or stews, or mixing them into hummus for extra texture.