Spices: Kalonji | Nigella Seed | Charnushka

Kalonji | Nigella Seed

There is a lot of confusion about the name of this spice. It is variously referred to as black cumin (shar, or kala jeera), black caraway because of its usage with caraway seed in Jewish rye breads, and black onion seeds due to its similarity to onion seed. In the US, kalonji is often known by its Russian name charnushka or chernushka, which was probably introduced into American English by Armenian immigrants. Most names of kalonji contain an element meaning “black” because of the unusual dark colour. They are also commonly called Nigella Seed.

Kalonji are the seeds of Nigella Sativa or Love-in-the-Mist and is native to the Mediterranean. Kalonji then spread to Iran and from there to Northern India.

The seeds are deep black, tear shaped sharp cornered grains or seeds with little odour except oregano-like when ground or chewed, and a slightly bitter taste, somewhat smoky with a hint of pepper and poppy seed. It is well known in India, Turkey, Lebanon and Iran, with Turkish bread often showing the black grains sprinkled on top. They are added to spice pastes and blends, salads and rice pilafs. Most people from India associate these seeds with tandoor oven breads like naan, where they are sprinkled over the top, with vegetable dishes such as aubergine or pumpkin, with pickles, Bengali food, the Bengali 5-spice mix, pancha phoron and with various North Indian vegetarian dishes. Kalonji can be dry roasted before use to enhance the flavour.


Feel free to browse recipes from our Retro Recipes series. You might also like our Spice information here. Or you might like to browse our Indian Essentials series here.