I just read a post on another blog (thanks for the duck recipe, Julia!) and was surprised by the following statement: “in Prague, the spice sold as ‘cumin’ is in fact fennel”.
I know that the Czech language is not very helpful in distinguishing between caraway seeds (kmín) and cumin (římský kmín), two types of spices that look almost identical but smell and taste completely different. I don’t see though why fennel (in Czech fenykl) should mess with either of them. True, it also looks similar, but that’s where any shared characteristics end. Who sells fenykl masquerading as římský kmín, and why?
Here’s some brief info on the three types of spices and their use in the Czech Republic:
kmín = caraway seeds
Caraway seeds are very popular in Czech cooking. They’re added to the water when boiling potatoes, they’re sprinkled on pork or duck before roasting, they’re used in sauerkraut, soups, mushroom dishes, and they’re an important ingredient in the traditional Czech kmínový chléb (rye bread with caraway seeds).
římský kmín = cumin
Cumin is popular in Indian, North African and Mexican cooking. It is a relatively new spice on the Czech market. Czechs are still learning how and when to use it.
fenykl = fennel
Fennel is commonly known in the Czech Republic but it is not a very typical ingredient in Czech cooking. Ground fennel seeds are traditionally used in some Christmas cookies or gingerbread.