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Nigella seeds: Am I on a snipe hunt for spices?

I have several recipes that call for nigella seeds. I also have several well-stocked Indian grocery stores near me. This week, I’ve been to three of them and haven’t been able to find nigella seeds.

In two of the stores, I got the whole staff involved in the hunt. I had 3-4 people helping me in both places, and they consulted with other workers to see if any of them knew what I was looking for. Nobody had even *heard* of nigella seeds, and we certainly couldn’t find them.

Could they be listed under another name? A quick Google search didn’t turn up anything. And I didn’t see anything in these stores that looked like the picture. I didn’t get the sense they were all that rare, but I’m sure not having any luck finding them.

19 thoughts on “Nigella seeds: Am I on a snipe hunt for spices?

  1. I saw some in my local Afghan/Middle Eastern shop today, called Nigella Seeds. But in the Indian shop they are called Kalonji.

    1. Oh, interesting. There is a Middle Eastern store nearby. I’ll check it out if I can’t find kalonji at the Indian groceries.

  2. Might be a name issue. What country are you in?

    Try looking for “Black Onion Seeds” or “Klowunji/Kalonji”. Apparently “Black Cumin” and “Black Caraway” also, just looking now, although I’ve never heard it by these names where I am.

    They don’t go by “Nigella” everywhere, anyway, so this might be the issue!

      1. Hmm that is interesting. The reason I added those with “apparently” on the end was because I only saw those on the Wikipedia page I double checked while writing my comment, here:

        But it’s very odd because this page ***doesn’t*** mention “black onion seeds” which is a very common name for them as far as I’m aware.

        I’ve just looked into this again now, though, and if you see *this* page:

        It states this name is used for 2 different things, to add more confusion!

        But yea, I’d never heard of nigella being called this before either. I feed like I should add “black onion seeds” as a name on the first page, though? It’s a very common name for nigella as far as I’m aware.

        1. **Nigella sativa**

          Nigella sativa (black-caraway, also known as nigella or kalonji), often called black cumin, is an annual flowering plant in the family Ranunculaceae, native to south and southwest Asia.

          Nigella sativa grows to 20–30 cm (7.9–11.8 in) tall, with finely divided, linear (but not thread-like) leaves. The flowers are delicate, and usually colored pale blue and white, with five to ten petals.

          The black caraway fruit is a large and inflated capsule composed of three to seven united follicles, each containing numerous seeds which are used as spice, sometimes as a replacement for black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum).


          **Black cumin**

          Black cumin can refer to the seeds of either of two quite different plants, both of which are used as spices:

          Bunium bulbocastanum, black cumin is considered similar to caraway, but they are two distinctly different plants. The seeds differ dramatically in shape, color and size.

          Nigella sativa, black caraway is also called kalonji or nigella, and more common in the Far East, Mideast, India and Africa.


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        2. In any Indian grocery, nigella will be called “kalonji” and black cumin will be “shahi zeera” or “kala zeera” (which literally means “black cumin”). It makes sense because black cumin doesn’t taste very different from regular cumin, it’s just milder.

          Kalonji tastes very different from both types of cumin. It’ll be called nigella or kalonji or onion seed like you said.

          1. Kalonji! Okay, I’ll look for kalonji! (Or onion seed.)

            I did find black cumin at one store, and wasn’t sure if that was related. Sounds like I don’t need it. Thanks for explaining the difference.

        3. Okay, I’m glad someone else was confused by the Wikipedia entry! I read it too, and couldn’t quite figure out the distinctions between all those things. It is not the most helpful description.

          1. Yeah… hope you can find these seeds now anyway! Definitely worth it, I really like the taste they have! I use them as a garnish for the look, but also in dished and baked into breads they can be nice too.

  3. Kalonji is a better name. I see them at all Indian stores and “international” grocery stores, I doubt you will have a problem.

  4. Not sure where u live but whole foods has em. They’re not necessarily an Indian spice so you can find them in a lot of higher end grocery stores in the states. I used them in a non Indian recipe and had no issue finding them!

  5. I have a random bric a brac store near me and they’re overstocked with Nigella seeds, happy to ship some over if you need.

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