Cumin – The dried seeds of the Cuminum cyminum plant, a small umbellifer related to caraway, dill, and fennel, are possibly my all-around favourite spice. Judging from its long history and ubiquitous nature, it’s one of the world’s favourite spices as well. Native only to the Nile valley in Egypt, the spice has been used in the Mediterranean, North Africa, India, and China for at least 4,000 years. Ancient Egyptians and Minoans used it for medicinal purposes, and the Romans used it much the way we use pepper today. Its unique and indescribable flavour is used to season every type of food, from cheeses in Holland and pickled cabbage in Germany to fish dishes in Lebanon, couscous in Morocco, and tapas in Spain. Many dishes from India and Mexico would be unrecognizable if the cumin were omitted-a garum masala or chili con carne wouldn’t be the same without it. As with all seeds used as spices, cumin benefits from heating; the flavour is enhanced by dry roasting before grinding, or by frying in hot oil if being used whole.