Kümmel (which means “caraway” in German) is a bitter liqueur no less than 40 degrees. It is infused with caraway seeds, dill or anise. Depending on the recipe it might contain other ingredients: sugar, honey, citrus peel, cloves, bitter oranges, fennel, star anise, and orris root. It’s hard to find in stores, but you can make it at home without too much fuss.
Historical background. Caraway infusion recipe was first mentioned back in 1503. The technology was described by an unknown member of the Livonian order—a Catholic organization, which consisted of Germanic crusaders. Back in those days, the Livonian order ruled the Latvian Allaži Parish (an administrative unit). It is believed that the best caraway in all Europe grows in this exact location.
The mass production of kümmel started at the distillery belonging to the Bols family in the Netherlands in the 17th century. After trying this caraway liqueur, Peter the Great decided to start the production of his own variation of the drink. To do this the Russian Tsar bought the recipe from the Bols family, made his own amendments, and built a distillery in the Allaži estate.
The Russian kümmel differs from the Dutch counterpart in that it has a higher content of ethanol, caraway, and sugar. The drink gained popularity in the Russian Empire rather fast, where it was called “Doppel-Kümmel.” Aside from being delicious it also cured some diseases: intestinal issues, nervous disorders, insomnia, and man problems.
In the late 19th century a German company called Mentzendorff bought off the recipe of the doppel kümmel and started its mass production. After this, the caraway infusion started its victory march across Europe, and it hasn’t run out of popularity to this day.
Kümmel Caraway Infusion Recipe
- Caraway seeds – 1 teaspoon
- Vodka (alcohol 40%, moonshine) – 0.5 liters
- Dill seeds – 0.5 teaspoon
- Anise – 0.5 teaspoon
- Sugar (honey) – to taste
- Lemon peel – 1 tablespoon (optional)
- Cloves – 1-2 buds (optional)
- Orris root – 1 tablespoon (optional)
Aside from the base alcohol the classic kümmel recipe also has only caraway seeds, dill, and anise. All other ingredients are optional. Making the traditional infusion is recommended for the first time by slightly sweetening the drink. You can change the recipe to your liking the next time.
Note. You should only use European caraway of the Apiaceae family. Black cumin or jeera cumin are not fit for this recipe. Although anise and star anise have a similar smell, they are not the same plant. Orris root is a term used to describe crushed Iris flower (ordinary yellow).
- Gently crush the spices with a wooden rolling pin or use a coffee grinder. Put them in a fermentation container.
- Add vodka (ethanol, moonshine). Seal the container and bring it to a dark place with room temperature. Infuse for 14 days.
To speed up the infusion process you can heat up the mixture to 60-70°C (explosion hazard!) and then cool it down to room temperature and strain. But in order to obtain a rich flavor, you’ll have to follow the classic technology.
- Strain the homemade infusion through cheesecloth and squeeze the seeds. Give the drink a taste. Sweeten with sugar or honey to your liking. Stir until the sweetener dissolves completely.
- Bottle for storing and seal. Let the homemade kümmel age for 3-5 days in a dark and preferably cool place until its taste stabilizes.
In case of sediment forming, filter the caraway infusion through cotton wool.
Homemade kümmel’s shelf-life in glass containers is up to 5 years; it has 34-37% ABV.