The Caraway plant is mostly grown for its seeds, but some people say that the young leaves of the plant are good in a soup, and in earlier times, the plant was actually prized for the root, which was considered tasty.
Caraway is used a lot to flavour rye bread, cheeses and sauerkraut. It has a dominant taste, which most of the world seems to love, which means in turn that the few people who hate the taste have to be always on the watch.
Very popular in Central European cooking, as it cuts through starchy tastes.
Caraway Seeds benefit from toasting over low heat in a frying pan for a few quick minutes before using them to bring out the flavour.
Angelica; fennel seed; dill seed. Or more closely, ½ anise seed, ½ dill seed.
If you are trying to substitute because you don’t like the taste, either dill seed if appropriate (in a savoury dish), or just omit.
As many have noted, Caraway seeds have been found in prehistoric Swiss villages as early as 4000 BC, though that doesn’t actually prove they were used there, as Caraway grows wild in Central Europe, anyway.
Caraway roots (like parsnips, but smaller) are edible and may have been the base of the Julius Caesar’s “Chara”. At one point, during the war with Pompey when Pompey thought he had Caesar in a tight spot because his men couldn’t be supplied with food, Caesar had his men mix Caraway root with milk to make a form of bread. Caesar had his men throw loaves at Pompey’s men, to show them that instead of starving, they had food to throw away. (In Weinmann, Johann Georg, 1769.)
Literature & Lore
In Shakespeare’s “Henry IV”, Falstaff is offered ‘a pippin and a dish of Caraways.’ At Trinity College, Cambridge, roast apples are still served with a small side saucer of Caraway seeds.
An old superstition held that not only would a thief not be able to remove from the house any item which had a Caraway seed in it, but that the thief himself would not be able to leave the house.
Caraway Seed was also thought to keep lovers and pigeons from straying. For that reason, it was both used as an ingredient in love potions, and given to tame pigeons.
“Incidentally, you might like to know that caraway seed, scarce since war cut off supplies out of Holland, is a commercial crop in the states for the first time this year. California has some 300 acres, Oregon and Idaho have been growing the seed in lesser amounts.” — Paddleford, Clementine (1898 – 1967). Food Flashes Column. Gourmet Magazine. July 1945.
The Arabs called the seeds “Karawya”, which is the origin of our English name for them.