Nancy W. Callan, Mal P. Westcott, Sue Wall-MacLane, and James B. Miller
Western Agricultural Research Center
Montana State University

Introduction

Caraway (Carum carvi L.) is a member of the carrot family. The fruits (seeds) of caraway are used as a spice or may be distilled to produce an essential oil. In addition to the familiar rye bread seasoning, caraway seed and its essential oil is used to flavor cheeses, sausages, and other foods. The essential oil is also a source of carvone for cosmetics, including perfumes and soaps.

Both annual and perennial caraways are available. The biennial caraway is more widely cultivated and more productive than the annual type. Biennial caraway forms a rosette of leaves the first year and develops a flowering stalk the second, after which the plant dies. The inflorescence is an umbel with white or pinkish flowers, and the seeds are double achenes. The essential oil is produced in five channels running the length of the seed. Biennial caraway seed contains 3-7% oil, while annual caraway contains 2-3% oil. The main oil constituents are carvone (50-70%) and d-limonene (25-30%) (2).

Caraway is adapted to a variety of soil types, but does not do well on very light or waterlogged soils. Adequate moisture is important for seed production (2). While it is grown on the prairies in Saskatchewan, yields are only about 700 lb./a (11), in contrast to maximum reported yields of 3528 lb/a from the Netherlands (1). Higher yields are expected under irrigation.

In 1999, the US imported 7.5 million lb. of caraway seed, primarily from Canada and the Netherlands, worth $2.5 million. Also imported in 1999 was 10,977 lbs. of caraway oil, valued at $202,386 (3).

Discussion

Biennial caraway was much more productive at WARC than was annual caraway. Annual caraway did not perform well at the WARC, and yields were lower than those obtained under the highest level of irrigation in Saskatchewan (1710 lb./a) (10). While biennial caraway appears to be adapted to western Montana, the market for the seed or oil is limited and production costs must be spread over a two-year crop cycle.

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