I did a little informal poll amongst friends that cook and some chefs I work with and dill seed is one of those spices that is truly under the radar. I wasn’t so surprised – heck, it’s not like I use it on a daily basis, but the reality is that this spice spans everything from our everyday dill pickle to Swedish breads to Ras El Hanout, a popular North African spice blend.
Interestingly enough, these flat, tear-shaped seeds aren’t seeds at all. They are actually the fruits of the dill plant (that gives us that beautiful, feathery herb). The flavor of the seed is definitely stronger than the weed or the herb; it has a sharper bite and none of the leafy sweetness. For me, caraway is the closest taste comparison, and there are also notes of chervil, parsley, and anise, which isn’t surprising since the plants are all in the same family.
I was shocked to find out how many different cultures actually use this spice! It’s hard to pinpoint the origin, but dill is thought to have started off in Eastern Europe, spreading later to the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Asia. Scandinavian cuisines, Russian, Ukrainian (it’s in borscht!) and German all use the spice. In the Middle East and North Africa, the spice is found in pickles, spice blends and salads. Even parts of Asia, Indonesia, and Malaysia, incorporate the spice in everything from meat curries to condiments. In South Asia, dill seeds are added to curries or even cooked like lentils; it’s also part of the spice blend that goes into biryani.
It’s truly a versatile spice and works beautifully in potato salads, vinaigrettes, rice dishes and all types of breads. I’m thinking about working it into a lobster salad along with the herb and a touch of coriander, but it’s also gorgeous in soups and stews (where it softens and becomes toothsome). The seed definitely gets a boost from dry-roasting, but it should be ground to order as the flavor dissipates quickly after being ground. The dill seed from India has a milder flavor than that from other areas, so taste-experiment-repeat where necessary!