Ajwain and epazote are two spices that our bean-loving family couldn't live without.
I've highlighted both of them in my post on How to De-Gas Beans, but here is more detail about them.
Ajwain is one of the spices mentioned in my post on Savory Hummus. It, along with epazote, helps with the digestion of beans.
Recently there has been a lot of attention paid to other cultures and their native ways of cooking. Just like there are some old wives' tales that actually are true, there are a lot of cultural traditions surrounding foods that had better nutrition at the root of their existence.
I was introduced to ajwain a few years ago by a friend who is a master of all things spice and was the manager of a spice store at the time. I mentioned to her that we were eating a lot (emphasis on "lot") of beans and that this was sometimes a source of digestive distress for our family. We were already soaking, draining, and rinsing our beans before cooking, but we were still having some undesirable effects of the high bean diet :-).
Ah yes, brings back memories of that old rhyme, "Beans, beans, the magical fruit..."
My friend said to try ajwain and epazote when cooking beans, adding them to the bean water after soaking and draining the beans.
What a difference! And you don't need to use very much of either spice:
Use 1/4 teaspoon ajwain per 2 cups of cooked beans to the pot (1 cup dried beans yields approx 3 cups cooked).
I count the number of dried beans that I am using, multiply by 3 and then count off how many 1/4 teaspoon I need.
For example, if I am cooking 4 cups of dried beans, that will yield about 12 cups of cooked beans. So I will need 1/4 teaspoon x 6 or 1 1/2 teaspoons ajwain. To make it easy without calculating, I think, "OK. I am cooking 12 cups of beans so I count off 1/4 teaspoon of ajwain while dumping it into the pot and counting by 2 for each 1/4 teaspoon. For 12 cups that means I would add six quarter teaspoons of ajwain.
For epazote, add approximately 1 tablespoon per 3 cups cooked beans or 1 cup dried beans.
You use more epazote in volume per pot of beans, but it weighs considerably less than the ajwain so the cost equals out a bit.
I tried to find out which spice works best for which kind of beans and I was not able to get consistent answers on this topic. I do find that epazote is more typically used in Mexican and Hispanic dishes and its flavor complements black, pinto, cranberry beans, and the like. Ajwain works well with, and its taste is well-suited to garbanzos (chickpeas), split peas, and lentils.
At first when we started to use these, we noticed a slight change in the flavor of the dish, but it truly is not strong at all.
Here are some photos of both for "illustrative purposes" :-):
Here is ajwain seed:
And here is epazote:
As for where to buy these, and for the answer to my reader's question, they are available at many international groceries. Epazote is available at Starwest Botanicals. You can buy ajwain on Amazon. They have a wonderful selection of organic and herbal products. Penzeys is another purveyor of spices that carries both items, but I prefer the organic option.
More on spice resources in another posting...
Until then, enjoy the magical fruit without the toot -- and Happy New Year!
Have you ever heard of ajwain or epazote?