This trendy ingredient has been around for more than just a couple years.
The substance was identified as a top 10 natural foods trend in 2018 by Natural Grocers, which touted its effectiveness in treating various health conditions. But what exactly is black seed oil, is it really that good for you, how the heck are you supposed to consume this dark, mysterious liquid?
Here, three nutrition experts help us dissect the trend.
What exactly black seed oil is
Black seed—also called black caraway, black cumin, black onion seed and kalonji—comes from Nigella sativa, a flowering shrub that grows in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. It contains chemical compounds called thymoquinone and caryophyllene that have been linked to certain health benefits, explains Stephanie Ferrari, a Massachusetts-based registered dietitian.
The substance has been used medicinally for thousands of years. In fact, historians believe that King Tut, Cleopatra, and Hippocrates ingested black seed for an array of conditions, including malaise, weakness, coughing and skin care.
In recent years, black seed oil (a liquid version of black seed) has gained popularity in the health food sphere as awareness of its purported health benefits spreads. Here's what you need to know:
Studies have found potential health benefits
Black seed oil has been used to treat an array of medical conditions, including asthma, high blood pressure, diabetes, inflammation, cough, headache, eczema, fever, dizziness and the flu.
In recent decades, scientific studies have preliminarily confirmed its potential for treat or mitigating various diseases.
Black seed oil has been linked to improved liver function and prevention of liver damage, liver disease, and both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, explains Cate Ritter, a certified functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner. Plus, its chemical compounds have been shown to provide strong anti-pathogenic and anti-fungal properties.
“There is also evidence that the seed oil is an antioxidant, and may have antibacterial properties when tested under laboratory conditions,” explains Susan Bowerman, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian. “However, there are no human studies to back up any of the purported benefits claims.”
It has a strong taste—that isn't for everyone
Most people find it to be slightly bitter and a bit hot, says Bowerman. Others liken it to the flavor of cumin or oregano.
There are some health caveats
Some people have reported experiencing health-related issues after consuming or using black seed oil, including: dermatitis, rash, itching, blistering, pain, tenderness, low blood pressure and medication interactions, warns Ferrari. “It also has potential for allergic reactions, most commonly hives or gastrointestinal symptoms,” she adds.
What’s more, black seed oil may interfere with the action of certain medications, and it may slow blood clotting, says Bowerman, so you should check with your doctor before trying it out, and add it to your list of home medications.
It should be eaten raw
Black seed oil can be consumed raw, one teaspoon at a time, says Ferrari.
“Avoid heating it to preserve the nutrients,” adds Ritter.
Because of its strong taste, you may want to mix it with honey or lemon juice, Ferrari advises. Just be sure to check and follow the recommended daily dose on the package—most doses will be between 1 and 2 teaspoons.
The oil can also be drizzled on salads like dressings, or mixed into teas, smoothies and coffee (although keep in mind the caveats about its pungent taste).
For that reason, “it is probably best used in the same way you would use other strongly-flavored oils such as sesame or walnut—which is sparingly, for flavor, rather than as a main cooking oil,” says Bowerman.
A tip on storage: For optimal freshness, keep it in a dark, cool place away from heat and direct sunlight, says Ritter.
Where to find it
You can find black seed oil online, and in health stores and natural food grocers. Certain brands will contain higher levels of the good-for-you chemical compounds (thymoquinone and caryophyllene), so check labels carefully before purchasing.
The bottom line
With its scientifically sound health benefits and culinary versatility, black seed oil may indeed be worth the buzz. Just keep in mind the potential side effects, and check with your doc before giving it a go.