The seeds contain numerous esters of structurally unusual unsaturated fatty acids with terpene alcohols (7%); Furthermore, traces of alkaloids are found which belong to two different types: isochinoline alkaloids are represented by nigellimin and nigellimin-N-oxide, and pyrazol alkaloids include nigellidin and nigellicin.
In the essential oil (avr. 0.5%, max. 1.5%), thymoquinone was identified as the main component (up to 50%) besides p-cymene (40%), á-pinene (up to 15%), dithymoquinone and thymohydroquinone. Other terpene derivatives were found only in trace amounts: Carvacrol, carvone, limonene, 4-terpineol, citronellol.
Furthermore, the essential oil contains significant (10%) amounts of fatty acid ethyl esters. On storage, thymoquinone yields dithymoquinonene and higher oligocondensation products (nigellone).
The seeds also contain a fatty oil rich in unsaturated fatty acids, mainly linoleic acid (50 – 60%), oleic acid (20%), eicodadienoic acid (3%) and dihomolinoleic acid (10%) which is characteristic for the genus.
Saturated fatty acids (palmitic, stearic acid) amount to about 30% or less. Commercial nigella oil (“Black Seed Oil”, “Black Cumin Oil”) may also contain parts of the essential oil, mostly thymoquinone, by which it acquires an aromatic flavour.
Gernot Katzer (formerly with the University of Graz)
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