Ancient botanical seems to have made breakthrough in US market

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Nigella sativa seeds with the oil that can be pressed from them.  Image © Getty Images / Marc Bruxelle
Nigella sativa seeds with the oil that can be pressed from them. Image © Getty Images / Marc Bruxelle
Black cumin seed oil, an ancient botanical, seems to have finally ‘arrived’ on the market, if recent demand is anything to go by.

The oil, which is pressed from the seeds of Nigella sativa​, an annual plant native to the eastern Mediterranean and southwest Asia.  The species was first named by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1753.

Confusing nomenclature

According to a recent article in HerbalGram​, the publication of the American Botanical Council, the common names for this plant are somewhat misleading.  It is also known as black caraway, but is not related to either of these familiar spice plants.  It is also sometimes called simply black seed. 

The botanical has a long history of use extending back to Biblical times.  According to the HerbalGram article, which was written by Gayle Engels and Josef Brinckmann, archelogial evidence shows the plant was in use in Egypt as early as 1300 BCE.  Most of the modern supply comes from Egypt, India and Turkey.

Traditional uses for the ingredient include to alleviate headaches and easing difficult breathing.  The botanical has a place in the Ayurvedic tradition and was mentioned specifically in the Koran.

Modern research has shown an effect on the inflammation that accompanies asthma flareups.  A 2017 randomized, placebo-controlled study​ by researchers associated with English and Saudi Arabian institutions found enough promise that future, longer-term trials with asthma sufferers was recommended.

Demand increasing

Botanic Innovations, a company based in Spooner, WI that specializes in pressed seed oils, was among the first to process the seed oil in the United States. Founder Mark Mueller, who now serves as the company’s chief technology officer, said demand for the ingredient has been increasingly rapidly.

“We’ve had it on the market for close to 20 years now,” Mueller told NutraIngredients-USA. “Initially the demand was pretty small.  But within the past five years it has been growing robustly.” 

Rebecca Blahosky, vice president of sales and marketing, corroborated Mueller’s assertion.

“Five years ago we were maybe pressing one or two lots of seed a year.  Now we do at least ten times that,” ​she said.

“We have to do our due diligence to maintain a great supply chain to be able to meet that demand,”​ she said.

Anti inflammatory activity

Mueller said most of the interest in the ingredient comes from its potent antioxidant activity.  Botanic Innovations markets the ingredient mostly as a constituent in blends of other oils, and has a patent​ in its purported synergistic effects in these applications.

“Using these blends creates a very rich, very diverse profile of phytochemicals,” ​Mueller said.

The oil is used in topical products.  As an ingestible, it finds most use in softgels as a dietary supplement.  The base oil has a sharp, peppery flavor and aroma that is an acquired taste, Mueller said.

Mark Blumenthal, founder and executive director of ABC, said the article in 2017 was in recognition of increasing interest in the botanical.

“Nigella seed and its preparations have a long history of traditional use in various systems of traditional medicine in the Middle East and India, with archaeological evidence of its use as a food and medicine going back thousands of years. Based on the increased production and market interest, and the increasing amount of clinical research for a variety of endpoints, we decided to give it some significant editorial attention by publishing a relatively extensive literature review in ​HerbalGram in 117. Based on the emerging research and long history of use, I believe nigella seed preparations will become increasingly popular ingredients in herbal supplements in the US and beyond in the next few years,”​ he said.

Related topics: Suppliers, Inflammation, Botanicals

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