Latin name: Carum carvi
Common names: Caraway
A spice, which may result in allergy symptoms in sensitised individuals.
Caraway is thought to be native to Central Europe and Asia; but it is not clear whether the spice is truly indigenous to Europe. Today, it is chiefly cultivated in the Netherlands, Eastern Europe and Germany, and also North Africa, particularly Egypt.
Caraway, a member of the Parsley family (Apiaceae), is an annual or biennial spice crop (though sometimes the plant lives 3 years before setting seed). The Caraway grown commercially is a 20 cm biennial with lacy carrot-like leaves and tiny white flowers; it looks very similar to Dill and Fennel. Biennial Caraway has a higher essential oil level than annual Caraway.
The 3 to 7 mm-long, 1.5 to 2 mm-wide fruit, which is mistakenly called seed, is slightly curved (banana-shaped), with 5 distinct yellowish ridges. Each schizocarpic fruit is formed of 2 Caraway seeds and divides into the 2 half-fruits when mature. The fruit is dried for culinary use and has a distinct odour when crushed.
Caraway fruits contain 3% to 7% essential oil, a relatively low proportion for a spice. This oil consists mostly of carvone (a ketone, 50 to 85%) and limonene (a terpenoid, 20 to 30%); Caraway grown in more northerly latitudes is richer in essential oil than that grown in southern regions, and if it is grown in full sun, a greater percentage and a richer oil is obtained.
Caraway seed is used in the food industry, in medicine and domestically. It is a versatile spice and is used, among other things, for seasoning meat and vegetable dishes (especially cabbage dishes, including cabbage soup and sauerkraut), as a sausage spice, and for sauces, confectionery, bread and cheese. It is the principal flavouring in rye bread. The oil is used in alcoholic liquors, including the German/Russian Kummel. The cordial l'huile de Venus also contains Caraway.
The leaves may be picked and boiled early in the spring. The root is edible and resembles a Parsnip. The seed, after the distillation of the oil, retains a high percentage of protein and fat and is used as a cattle food.
Caraway is an ingredient in mouthwashes, soaps and perfumes. The fruit (including a tea made from it) and oil are said to be excellent for treating a variety of digestive ailments.
Confusingly, Caraway seed (Carum carvi) and cumin seed (Cuminum cyminum), both members of the family Apiaceae, have the same name in Finnish. (1)
No allergens from this plant have yet been characterised.
An extensive cross-reactivity among the different individual species of the family Apiaceae could be expected, and in fact does occur. (2) This is supported by a study reporting that Caraway, Fennel, Cumin, Coriander and Aniseed extracts had similar IgE-binding patterns in an individual with Aniseed allergy. Studies with the patient's serum demonstrated cross-reactivity among the IgE components. (3)
Celery is a frequent food allergen: not only raw, but also cooked and as a spice, it can produce various reactions of immediate type, from oral contact urticaria to anaphylactic shock. An associated allergy to several spices is quite common, and therefore the term ‘Celery-Mugwort-spice-syndrome’ has been proposed. Cross-reactivity among the Apiaceae has been reported to be the cause of the many positive results obtained with Carrot, Parsley, Anise, Fennel and Caraway. (4) In another study, a clinically relevant hypersensitivity to Caraway occurred in 26% of Celery-allergic individuals. Allergy to Carrot was more prevalent than to Caraway, while Parsley was positive in 16%, Fennel in 13%, Green pepper in 10% and Aniseed in 3%. (5)
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Caraway may induce symptoms of food allergy in sensitised individuals; however, few studies have been reported to date; (6) it is possible that the allergy occurs more frequently than has been reported.
For example, the French CICBAA data bank includes 589 cases of food allergies, including data on allergies to spices. Frequent sensitisation to Apiaceae was observed. Coriander, Caraway, Fennel or Celery sensitivity manifested in 32% of skin-prick tests in children, and in 23% in adults. In terms of other aromatic plants, sensitisation to Liliaceae has also been observed. Garlic, Onion or chive sensitivity was observed in 4.6% of skin prick tests in children, and in 7.7% in adults. But no positive skin-specific IgE test occurred for Nutmeg, Ginger or Clove. (7)
In a study of scratch tests performed with common spices on 1 120 atopic and 380 non-atopic patients, curry powder and Paprika produced reactions most frequently. When the components of curry powder were tested separately, Coriander, Caraway, Cayenne and Mustard were responsible for the vast majority of the skin reactions. (8)
In a study of skin-specific IgE determination with spice extracts performed on 50 patients with 2+ or stronger positive skin-specific IgE tests to spices per se, 10 were selected for serum-specific IgE determination. All ten patients were shown to have serum-specific IgE to various spices. Good correlation was demonstrated between serum- and skin-specific IgE for Mustard and Paprika, but there was poor correlation between Cayenne, Coriander, Caraway and White pepper. Five patients experienced rhinitis from powdered spices in their working environments, and one patient suffered from gastrointestinal pains caused by spiced food. (9)
In a patient with occupational rhinoconjunctivitis to Aniseed, skin-specific IgE tests showed a positive immediate response to Aniseed, Asparagus, Caraway, Coriander, Cumin, Dill, and Fennel extracts, and an intense late response to Aniseed. (3)
Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman.
- Niinimaki A, Hannuksela M, Makinen Kiljunen S. Skin prick tests and in vitro immunoassays with native spices and spice extracts. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 1995;75(3):280-6.
- Yman L. Botanical relations and immunological cross-reactions in pollen allergy. 2nd ed. Pharmacia Diagnostics AB. Uppsala. Sweden. 1982: ISBN 91-970475-09.
- Garcia-Gonzalez JJ, Bartolome-Zavala B, Fernandez-Melendez S, et al. Occupational rhinoconjunctivitis and food allergy because of aniseed sensitization. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol 2002;88(5):518-22.
- Wüthrich B, Dietschi R. The celery-carrot-mugwort-condiment syndrome: skin test and RAST results. [German] Schweiz Med Wochenschr 1985;115(11):258-364.
- Wüthrich B, Hofer T. Food allergy: the celery-mugwort-spice syndrome. Association with mango allergy? [German] Dtsch Med Wochenschr 1984;109(25):981-6.
- Eriksson NE, Moller C, Werner S, Magnusson J, Bengtsson U, Zolubas M. Self-reported food hypersensitivity in Sweden, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, and Russia. J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol 2004;14(1):70-9.
- Moneret-Vautrin DA, Morisset M, Lemerdy P, Croizier A, Kanny G. Food allergy and IgE sensitization caused by spices: CICBAA data (based on 589 cases of food allergy). Allerg Immunol (Paris) 2002;34(4):135-40.
- Niinimaki A, Hannuksela M. Immediate skin test reactions to spices. Allergy 1981:36:487-93.
- Niinimaki A, Bjorksten F, Puukka M, Tolonen K, Hannuksela M. Spice allergy: results of skin prick tests and RAST with spice extracts. Allergy 1989;44(1):60-5.