Canada's Caraway Seed Industry
Caraway (Carum carvi), a member of the carrot family (Umbelliferae), is a biennial spice crop native to Europe and western Asia. An annual variety of caraway is also produced in Canada, however, due to the long growing season required for the plant to mature, it is considered risky. In addition to being used as a spice, caraway seed contains 2.5 - 4.5% essential oil. The annual caraway plant contains less essential oil than the biennial plant and thus is considered to be of lower quality. The market for caraway oil has been negatively affected recently as carvone, its principal constituent, can now be produced synthetically.
Caraway can be successfully grown on a wide range of soil types; however, due to its drought intolerance, shallow sandy soil should be avoided. As a result of its slow germination, caraway is usually seeded with a companion or nurse crop such as coriander, lentil, flax, canola, or mustard to ensure proper irrigation and weed control. Caraway is also susceptible to a wide array of diseases, the most notable in recent years being the flower blight, which can cause severe crop loss.
Other diseases common to caraway include aster yellows, phoma blight, and sclerotinia. To avoid such diseases, a four-year rotation from both caraway and other members of the carrot family, as well as a one-year rotation from canola when common diseases are present, should be followed. Caraway is also vulnerable to many pests, the most damaging being the grasshopper, whose body parts, when found in caraway seed, can cause downgrading or rejection.
Caraway seed has a very high content of calcium, iron and dietary fibre. In addition, caraway seed contains two essential oils, Carvone (55%) and limonene (44%). These oils and other parts of caraway are used in culinary, industrial and medicinal products.
Products and Uses
The primary use of caraway is for culinary purposes; however, it also has industrial and medicinal functions. The entire caraway plant is edible; the roots may be cooked similar to carrots and the leaves can be used in salads. The main culinary market for caraway, however, is for its seeds, which may be used as a spice to flavour foods such as breads, meats, and cheese. The seeds can also be scattered over breads, cakes, and soups as decoration. From the seeds, an essential oil is derived that also has culinary purposes, as it is used to flavour gin, pickles, ice cream, and a number of other foods. In addition, the essential oil may be used to flavour mouthwashes, as well as to scent soaps and aftershaves. Medicinal uses of caraway are very broad and can relieve a wide range of ailments including toothaches, indigestion, eye infections, and colic. Additionally, caraway may be used as an antiseptic.
Marketing of caraway seed is very difficult as there are no marketing boards, quotas, or stabilization programs and markets in Canada are limited. There is also little information available about market and selling prospects. There are no grading standards set for caraway; rather they are graded by the buyer on the basis of aroma and appearance. However, cleaning standards for caraway seed are set by The American Spice Trade Association.
For the latest market information and analysis available from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, please consult the following publications:
Please note that the Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Association is the secretariat for the National Herb and Spice Coalition. For more information, please contact the Saskatchewan Herb and Spice Association.
Alberta New Crops Network (ANCN)
Upper 5303 - 91 Street
B.C. Herb Growers Association
998 Skeena Drive
Kelowna, British Columbia
Canadian Herb Society
VanDusen Botanical Gardens
5251 Oak Street
Vancouver, British Columbia
Fédération de l'agriculture biologique du Québec (in French only)
Affiliated to Union des producteurs agricoles (UPA)
555 Boul Roland Therrien
Filière des plantes médicinales biologiques du Québec (in French only)
C.P. 43, Magog, Quebec
Flower and Herb Growers Association of Alberta
244034 Range Road 32
Southern Alberta: Ken Wright 403-686-4434
Peace Region: Mary Ann Wilson 403-538-1429
Medicinal & Aromatic Plants Association of Manitoba
PO Box 20024
Newfoundland Herb Association
55 Springdale Street
St. John's, Newfoundland
P.E.I. Medicinal Plants Association
C/o Island Root Company
Western Canadian Organic Herb and Spice Association
PO Box 16
Caraway Seed in Alberta
Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development
Caraway in Saskatchewan
Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture
Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives
Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs