Spices & Seasonings/question regarding cumin
QUESTION: One of my favorite home cooking recipes is for chili. Usually I add ground cumin to counter flatulence, and I sauté it first in oil. For the purpose of countering flatulence, is it better to sauté the cumin, or just add it dry to the chili pot after all the ingredients including liquids, tomatoes etc. are cooking? Does it make any difference?
ANSWER: David, thanks for the question.
Those are interesting techniques for countering flatulence, but I don't think that they are going to be very effective. It helps to know what causes flatulence, or gas, when eating foods such as chili in the first place, and it's not necessarily pretty.
When food is digested, it's first broken down in the stomach in order to make the nutrients more accessible. Then as it's passed through the intestines, nutrients (sugars, proteins, vitamins) are extracted by the villi and other such apparatuses. Neither the stomach nor the intestines are able to affect certain dense sugars called oligosaccharides, so they pass into the bowels intact. This stage of your digestive tract is colonized with microorganism that are able to digest these large sugars, and they do so happily. Microorganism are living creatures though, so when they eat they need to excrete, and they do so in the form of methane and other gasses which are subsequently trapped inside of you until such a time as you deem it appropriate or necessary to release them.
These large sugars are not found in spices, though, they are found in beans. Kidney or red beans are a very common ingredient in chili, so I'm going to assume you're using one or the other. Beans and legumes, as well as other vegetables, are often rich in large, complex sugars - making sugar is what plants do, afterall.
So how can you counter this? Well, I've seen some evidence that cooking beans for extended periods helps, though I'm not totally convinced. The times required would reduce your beans to little more than puree though, so I don't really think that's an option. You could always leave them out, or add less of them. Other than that though, I think you either have to take some Bean-O or crack a window.
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QUESTION: A rather (forgive the pun) long-winded response to a simple question about cumin. I'm not disagreeing with your comments about sugars in food digestion. A widely held view is that the use of cumin will reduce (to some extent) the gas produced in the stomach by beans. I was merely trying to learn how best to use cumin.
David, I've done some more research into cumin, and I've come to the following conclusions:
Any relief that cumin may provide has not been documented as far as I can tell. I haven't found any source refuting that cumin may provide relief, but I have not personally heard of nor have I come across in research any indication that it does.
I searched Harold McGee's 'On Food and Cooking', a well respected treatise on Food Science, and found no references linking cumin and flatulence. Likewise on several other cooking and science books.
I also searched Wikipedia, and found a claim that cumin and other related spices have been reported to combat flatulence. Intrigued, I followed the cited source of this information to this page:
This is a great technical write up of flatulence, if you're interested, but it doesn't mention cumin once. So it looks like the claim on Wikipedia is not baked with any sources. That doesn't necessarily make the claim false, but it's not very encouraging.
Looking a bit into cumin chemistry, I found one flavor molecule in cumin and dill, among other things, that is complex and robust enough to potentially have an effect of digestive health, but there currently is no known connection. The molecule is called Carvone, specifically D-Carvone, but further investigation would probably require controlled experimentation which is a bit beyond my current abilities, I'm afraid.
I did come across a mention that probiotics such as are found in live cultured yogurt can be used to help combat gas. There's an experiment you can carry out yourself - eat a yogurt or two a day for a couple of weeks, and see if your flatulence is affected.
I received the following comment from David, along with a low rating, and I feel inclined to respond.
Comment - "Well, I respect your scholarly attitude, which insists on a clearly proven link between cumin and flatulence. However, the disadvantage of the scholarly approach (with regard to more things than cumin) is that it tends to dismiss certain "common" knowledge or "folk" wisdom that, while they might be true, they are more difficult to prove. Like the existence of God, for example. In the case of cumin, it has long been used as a digestive aid in herbal medicine. Again, my question was not whether cumin is effective in combating flatulence, rather, I was asking what is the best method for using the cumin to extract whatever benefits it might have. To be fair, I think AllExperts should add a rating category "Understanding of the question" but in lieu of that, I have given you 6 on the Knowledge and Clarity categories. Obviously you rate higher than I have given you for those categories, but somehow I need to indicate that I don't feel that you really understood my question. If I were you, I wou
ld have answered, e.g., that cumin might not be effective, however, here's how to cook it to extract whatever benefits it might or might not have, etc. I hope you understand my point."
Well, David, I'm sorry that you didn't like my answer, but I can't change the facts to conform with your belief system. If my answer was too in depth for you, here it is simplified:
There is no known connection between cumin and flatulence.
So what do you want me to do? Make stuff up? I can't tell you how to extract "whatever benefits it might or might not have" because there are no known benefits to extract from it. While I'm at it, would you like me to write up an article on how to extract gold from water?
Also, David, it's quite obvious from my previous write up that I don't "insist on a clearly proven link between cumin and flatulence" in order to pursue the subject. What I said, when I failed to turn up any documentation about a claim on Wikipedia was "That doesn't necessarily make the claim false, but it's not very encouraging." I then did original research into the chemical composition of cumin and cross referenced this with my limited resources on digestive health. After an inconclusive search, I then conjectured about a molecule called Carvone and possible effects it may have on digestive health. Please explain to me, with this in mind, the ways in which my skepticism has limited my research.
David, if you hold to the belief in the anti-gas powers of cumin as strongly as the faithful do to the belief in god, then I suspect you have much more dangerous problems than an occasional fart. If you think the anti-flatulent effects of cumin are miraculous, then I for one will leave you to it.