Olive oil is the health nut’s worst-kept secret: Almost everyone, it seems, has been waxing ecstatically about the health powers of this Mediterranean staple for the better part of the past few decades. But now, the Internet is full of chatter about the potential benefits of giving your diet an oil change.
Black seed oil, also called black cumin or kalonji, has a long history of culinary and medicinal use in certain regions of the world, but it is fairly new to the American market. Even so, you’ll come across no shortage of self-appointed health gurus who are all too happy to gush about this oil and say that you should definitely run to your closest health food store and splurge on the stuff.
But what exactly is black seed oil, is it really that good for you, and how the heck are you supposed to add this mysterious liquid into your diet? We looking into the latest research to find out.
Where does black seed oil come from?
Black seed hails from Nigella sativa, a flowering shrub that grows abundantly in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and parts of Asia. The seeds are a traditional Middle Eastern spice used in range of recipes including breads and salads. The tiny black seeds can also be pressed to extract their liquid fat.
Is black seed oil as healthy as they say?
Black seed has been used medicinally in its countries of origin for eons to help treat everything from asthma to an upset stomach to sagging energy levels. It’s believed that archaeologists even found black seeds in King Tut’s tomb, signifying their importance. But in recent years, black seed oil has gained popularity in the North American health food sphere as awareness of its believed health benefits spreads.
Beyond the anecdotal, a handful of scientific studies, primarily conducted on animals, have shown that there is a potential for the consumption of this new oil to aid in knocking our bodies into better shape.
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Some research suggests that black seed oil may help slash the risk for diabetes by improving blood sugar control, help lower blood pressure numbers, enhance liver functioning, aid in fending off certain cancers, and work to improve blood cholesterol numbers—making it a potential champion for heart health. A daily dose may even help bring a new generation of cyclists into the world by improving semen quality in infertile men. But to date, there are no studies that have addressed any connection between daily black seed oil usage and athletic performance.
Most likely, the potential diverse health benefits of black seed oil are owing to certain chemical compounds such as thymoquinone that may have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Like other edible oils such as olive oil, black seed oil is also a source of beneficial unsaturated fats. One study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that replacing some of the saturated fat in our diets from sources such as red meat and dairy with unsaturated omega-6 fat, which can be found in seed oils, may improve heart health by reducing the production of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol particles.
As mentioned, though, there is a lack of long-term human studies to back up the purported benefits of black seed oil, so at the moment, it’s difficult to draw any definitive conclusions on its healing properties. And we don’t yet know how much black seed oil you would have to take and for how long to reap the rewards. More research is needed.
How do you use black seed oil?
When eaten, black seed oil has a slightly bitter flavor that’s reminiscent of a combo of cumin and oregano. It’s robust flavor and high price point, about $20 for an 8-ounce bottle, means that most people won’t be using black seed oil as a go-to for dressing or stir-fry.
As with other strongly-flavored oils like hazelnut and sesame, it’s best reserved for light culinary use such as drizzling over finished dishes such as soups, curries, roasted vegetables, and pasta dishes. Start slow until you understand how the flavor of the oil changes the personality of your final dish.
The recommended daily dose for black seed oil is 1 to 2 teaspoons daily. For optimal freshness and to prevent rancidity, keep it in a dark, cool place away from heat and direct sunlight. The oil is also available in capsules making for a convenient option.
The bottom line: With its potential (though largely unconfirmed) health benefits, black seed oil seems like it’s worth the hype, but much more long-term research in humans (and athletes in particular) is necessary before we can say for sure that it should be a pantry staple.
Until then, it’s best to ignore the latest “buzzy” health trends and make sure you’re following a nutritious, whole-food-based diet that includes other healthy (and more research-backed) oils like olive oil.
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