Carum carvi is also known as caraway, meridian fennel, carvi and German cumin; to make matters even more complicated, it is often mistaken for common cumin. The plant is native to central and northern Europe and Asia, where it grows spontaneously in particular in fertile soils low in clay content. The world's largest caraway consumers are Germany, Austria and the Netherlands, as well as Anglo-Saxon countries. Archaeological evidence shows that caraway was used for culinary purposes some 5,000 years ago, yet its widespread cultivation in Europe dates back to the Middle Ages.
Like other aromatic plants such as parsley and fennel, caraway belongs to the Umbrelliferae family. What we normally refer to as seeds are actually its dried fruits: up to 7 mm long, thin and crescent-shaped, they are green or brown in colour, with small ridges. Caraway is a biennial plant with finely divided, light green leaves and small white-green flowers. The plant can grow to a height of 80 cm.
Kummel vs cumino: Caraway is often mistaken for another spice, cumin, which is also known as common cumin. The former is darker in colour, less spicy and has smaller seeds. This mistake is often caused by the fact that, in many European languages, the two plants have similar names and are both widely used. Interesting facts Caraway is known in Italy as "kummel". This name comes from the liqueur first distilled in the Netherlands in the sixteenth century. "German cumin", yet another term used in Italy for caraway, is a reference to the widespread use of this seed in central Europe. Caraway gets an interesting mention in John Parkinson's seventeenth century herbarium: «The seed is often used with baked fruit, bread, cakes and similar recipes to enhance their taste»; sugar-coated caraway seeds were often offered as a digestive at the end of meals.