Cumin seeds have a distinctive pungent, earthy aroma and warm flavor. They add an instant earthiness to any dish. They go great with so many Indian recipes especially potatoes, rice and meats.
Cumin seeds are ubiquitous in Indian cooking, either as whole seeds or ground. A vaghaar, the process of heating oil of ghee in a pan and adding whole spices (known as tadka in Hindi and tempering in English) forms the flavor base of so many Indian recipes. And the vaghaar usually begins with cumin or mustard seeds.
Cumin seeds, along with coriander seeds, are a main ingredient in garam masala. Cumin seeds also form the backbone of Gujarati cooking in the form of dhana jeeru.
Cumin has been used as a spice in cooking for thousands of years. It can be traced back to ancient Egypt where it was not only used as a spice but also as a preservative in mummification.
It has also been used in Indian cooking for a thousand years. No wonder it serves as the starting block of so many Indian recipes.