Several Topics of Note

September 30, 2010

First, although certainly not foremost, is a brief discussion of the distinction between caraway and cumin. On one side of the ring, we have Carum Carvi, heavyweight champion of being referred to as Meridian Fennel, and even Persian Cumin. On the other, we have Cuminum Cyminum, perhaps less noteworthy in title, but all the more deserving of note.

We all know that cumin will come out victorious, simply because it is a superior spice. Apparently most Indo-European populations around the time of spice naming didn’t, however, know this. For that reason, many of our European languages do not distinguish between these two similar-in-appearance-but-not-in-flavor-or-aroma seeds. I learned this the hard way. I acquired (via scrupulous means, I’ll have you know) a bag of what was labeled kim, I was then led to believe by several credible sources that this was cumin. Much to my chagrin, I began cooking something which required cumin and brandished a small handful of the decadent, slightly crescentoid seeds. Upon smelling them, I was rudely-awakened by what smelled rather more like caraway. I thought little of it, and in a disappointed flourish, I cast them into the pan. I figured it was one of the myriad discrepancies between life in Serbia and life in the United States. As it turns out, Serbian, as well as most other Indo-European languages don’t have different names for caraway and cumin; indeed, many aren’t even aware of the distinction! I have been informed by considerably less credible sources that these days, one may use the term kumin to unambiguously refer to cumin… we’ll see if I sound like a complete fool next time I’m at the spice store. But damnit, I could really use some cumin!

The second topic at hand is a relative scarcity of bourbon. As many of you know, bourbon is my drink of choice. How I came up with the most quintessentially American beverage as my drink of choice, I don’t know, but that’s the way it seems to be. As it turns out, there are really only several brands of bourbon that are available at all here. The most prevalent by far is Four Roses. It’s an American brand, and it’s legitimate bourbon, but it’s certainly nothing to write home about (that’s probably the first time I’ve used that phrase and actually meant it). There are also some varieties of Jim Beam, and of course, Jack Daniels (ignoring the fact that it’s not a “true bourbon”). Blanton’s, Eagle Rare, Bulleit, Basil Hayden’s, Rebel Yell, W.L. Weller… all of those, nowhere-to-be-found. I’m waiting for a native to correct me and lead me to some undiscovered wealth of American spirits awaiting in an unassuming liquor store somewhere. Until then, maybe another glass of Four Roses will take away the pain.

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3 Responses to “Several Topics of Note”


  1. Try (lets call it) “American shop”. Place where expats buy stuff they can’t find in their new country and can’t live without it. I heard stuff there is more expensive than “back home” and it’s somewhere in US embassy. Good luck with bourbons.

    • ibarrere Says:

      Thanks, I’ve heard of that place. Unfortunately, I think that I need to work for the US government somehow in order to get in, I don’t think being a US citizen is enough. Although I’ll definitely give it a try. 🙂

  2. Mark Says:

    Ha ha, I had the same experience in Serbia with ‘kim’ – I am wiser now and have a big stock of cumin that I keep replenished from the UK (though I don’t go very often). Not sure if there is any ‘kumin’ to be found in these parts, but those ‘Zdrava hrana’ shops are getting better.


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