Cumin is a versatile spice used in dishes from cuisines all around the world. From your favorite taco recipe to that family curry recipe, we would bet that cumin features in more recipes than you thought possible.
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Cumin is another one of those ancient spices that date back thousands of years. It was initially cultivated in the Mediterranean and Iranian region and is mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Holy Bible. The oldest cumin reference dates back about 5,000 years as it was used as one ingredient for mummifying Egyptian pharaohs' bodies.
Greeks also used cumin as a dinner table, seasoning in a separate container. During the Middle Ages, there was a superstition believed by many alleging cumin kept lovers and chickens from wandering. It was also a good luck charm at weddings.
First and foremost it is a spice, and it adds depth and warmth to your dishes. It has a nutty flavor with notes of fresh citrus. This means that it lends itself well to all kinds of flavors.
With a spice as versatile as cumin, it is not surprising to find that many recipes call for it. This is all well and good if you have cumin in your store cupboard, of course. But what if you have run out? Or what if you just don’t like the taste of it?
In this article, we will be exploring some of the best substitutes for cumin. Because of its versatility and how well it works with different flavors, you will find that it complements many other different spices.
This means that you will be able to use other spices and herbs in place of cumin and still achieve the same effect.
Ground Cumin vs Cumin Seeds
Cumin comes in two typical forms - ground and seeds. Before we go ahead and list the different substitutes for cumin, it will be helpful to assess what exactly your recipe is asking for.
Check whether you need ground cumin or cumin seeds. In terms of flavor, there will not be much difference.
However, depending on the dish, one may work better than the other. For example, cumin seeds will have a seed-like texture, which may work well in some dishes but not so well in others.
If you are making a curry, then you may not want seeds floating in it. In this case, ground cumin may be preferable. Likewise, if you are making a rice dish, such as jeera, you may want the seeds rather than the ground version.
Of course, if you only have one or the other, then you may find that this is the best substitute. What we mean by this is if you have a recipe that requires cumin seeds but you only have ground cumin, then using ground cumin might wind up being the best option as a substitute because the flavor will be identical.
As we say, this will depend on the dish as you also need to consider the texture, but in general, this would work best than trying to swap it out with something else.
You can use cumin seeds and ground cumin like for like. So, if your recipe calls for a teaspoon of the seeds then you can use a teaspoon of ground cumin for the same flavor.
Another trick to keep in mind is that you can actually ground cumin seeds yourself! If you are doing this, then you should keep in mind that one teaspoon of cumin seeds will yield around three-quarters of a teaspoon of ground cumin if you are doing it yourself.
Simply place the seeds into a spice grinder or coffee grinder and voila, freshly ground cumin!
Caraway seeds and cumin seeds are often mistaken for each other. They look almost identical thanks to their oblong seed shape and similar mustard-brown color.
The flavors are slightly different, with caraway being milder than cumin. However, they are both a member of the parsley family, hence their similarities.
However, as a rule, they work well in place of each other. It has a mild licorice taste, something that cumin doesn’t quite have.
For this reason, we recommend adding in your caraway slowly, using just half the amount that is specified for cumin, and then tasting. You can add more as you see fit, ensuring to taste it each time you add more.
You can use caraway seeds in place of cumin seeds, and ground caraway in place of ground cumin. Caraway works well in place of cumin in stews, meat dishes, and in any European dishes (it works especially well in German recipes).
Caraway will not provide the same spice and heat that cumin might, and so if you need it for a spicy recipe then it may be best to also add in some chili powder or curry powder if you think that you will need a bit more heat in the dish.
Like caraway, coriander is another flavoring that belongs to the same family as cumin. They all belong to the parsley family, and so they look and taste similar. Like caraway, coriander does not have the same heat or spice as cumin and has a slightly more mild flavor.
That being said, it does have that same distinct citrus flavor and nutty taste as cumin. Both are very earthy, and coriander is often used in Indian dishes, meaning it will work well in your curries in place of cumin.
Coriander is also known as cilantro when it is in its freshly picked form. We would recommend that you use coriander seeds or ground coriander as opposed to the fresh herb. As a rule, it would be best to use coriander seeds in place of cumin seeds, and ground coriander in place of ground cumin.
If your recipe calls for one teaspoon of cumin, then we would recommend that you use half a teaspoon of coriander in its place, adding in something to add some more heat if you wish.
Chili powder will work well for this, allowing you the citrus, earthy tones of the coriander, and the spice from the chili. Both will work in tandem to create a flavor that resembles cumin.
Chili powder is yet another great substitute for cumin in a variety of dishes as it provides the heat that you might desire from cumin.
Chili powder is a broad term to describe a spice that could be a number of different things. Some chili powders are made with a variety of different spices in them.
For example, you may be able to buy chili powder that contains ground cayenne pepper, ground cumin, ground ancho peppers, ground onion powder, and even garlic.
You may also be able to buy chili powder that is made from just one type of ground chili, such as ancho chili, cayenne pepper, Aleppo, or chipotle.
All of these would also make a great substitute for cumin. That being said, the mixture of chili powder that includes cumin is certainly going to be your best bet as it will taste most like cumin.
You can use chili powder in place of cumin like for like. What we mean by this is that, if your recipe states the use of one teaspoon of cumin then you can add in one teaspoon of chili powder instead.
Bear in mind that the extra flavors of onion and garlic may affect the flavor of your recipe overall, but this should not be too intense.
Save this substitution for recipes that need heat and spice. If you are looking for the milder, earthier taste from cumin then this may not be the best substitute.
Trust us on this one! Taco seasoning generally features cumin-aplenty, since it is a spice that works well in Mexican cuisine.
With this in mind, if you are making a Mexican recipe and it calls for the use of cumin (either seeds or ground), and you find yourself out, you can use a sachet or sprinkling of taco seasoning in its place.
Now, this will wholly depend on what you are cooking, of course. However, if Mexican food is the dish of the day, then simply replace the cumin with the same amount of taco seasoning.
Bear in mind that taco seasoning is likely to be full of other spices, as well as plenty of salt. For this reason, we recommend that you add in the taco seasoning before anything else.
You may find that you do not need salt, onions, or garlic in your recipe if you have used taco seasoning.
As well as this, we highly recommend that you taste your recipe regularly when you are cooking, especially after you have added in your taco seasoning. This will ensure that the flavors are not too overpowering. You can then adjust the rest of the ingredients as needed.
To make sure that you do not add too much it might be wise to add your seasoning in parts, doing half a teaspoon, then tasting it, then adding the second half a teaspoon if needed.
This may not work well with curries and Indian dishes, so save this just for Mexican cuisine and your favorite Tex-Mex dishes.
Garam Masala is a spice blend that is often used in Indian cuisine. It contains a variety of different spices, including cumin.
With this in mind, Garam Masala is a great alternative for cumin in Indian dishes. It also works well in South African cuisine.
Garam Masala contains a variety of different spices that all taste earthy, warm, and with citrus undertones. As we know, cumin is a vital element, but you will also find cinnamon, coriander, and cardamom in there.
You can use it like for like, using one teaspoon of Garam Masala for one teaspoon of cumin. We recommend that you use it in curries, robust meat dishes, and vegetarian recipes.
It is also a great spice to use when flavoring snacks such as samosas and bhajis.
Similar to Garam Masala, curry powder is a blend of delicious spices that work well in a variety of dishes.
Sure, it’s called curry powder, but don’t be fooled into thinking that’s all you can use it for! Curry powder tastes delicious in place of cumin in many Asian dishes, as well as vegetarian rice dishes, and in meat recipes.
It typically includes cumin as one of its components, as well as turmeric, ginger, fenugreek, cinnamon, mustard, and coriander. This variety of spices makes curry powder very fragrant, with sweet and warm undertones.
You can use it like for like, using one teaspoon of the powder in place of the same of cumin.
Other options as a cumin substitute include caraway seed, fennel seed, coriander seed, anise seed, turmeric powder, and chipotle powder.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I use turmeric instead of cumin?
This is a question that’s still pretty much up for debate…
Sometimes in many Indian and Mediterranean dishes, people will substitute cumin for turmeric, since they both present very warm and earthy flavors. But the other way around, replacing cumin with turmeric, is a lot less common.
Replacing cumin with turmeric will noticeably alter the flavor of your food and therefore also affect the authenticity of the recipe. But that’s not all...
Substituting turmeric in place of cumin will also affect the color and presentation of the recipe. Using turmeric in your recipe will give it a vibrant yellow hue, quite unlike what you would expect for a dish containing cumin.
So, in short we do not recommend substituting turmeric for cumin or vice versa if it can at all be prevented.
Is cumin and curry powder the same thing?
Cumin and curry powder are very different - they are definitely not the same thing.
Cumin is a single spice, whereas curry powder is a blend of multiple spices.
But we get why you would ask the question. The spices you will find in curry powder often include cumin along with fenugreek and turmeric. And with the cumin being such a distinguishable and recognizable scent and flavor, anyone could be forgiven for wondering if curry powder is just cumin.
But it’s worth bearing in mind that curry powder mixes can differ between brands, and one brand for example may taste predominantly of cumin, whereas another brand of curry powder may taste predominantly like star anise.
So if you’re considering substituting cumin for curry powder in a particular recipe our advice to you is to give the curry powder a sniff, and see how similar the scent is to that of cumin. If you feel the scent is sufficiently similar, why not go ahead and give it a try?
What does cumin taste like?
Cumin has quite a distinguishable scent and taste, that is at once recognizable. It is earthy, nutty, pungent, and ever so slightly bitter. It’s a very warming and peppery spice that really lends itself to winter dishes where the intention is to warm up the person eating it.
And it really lends itself well to all manner of dishes, curries of course, but also in stews or in marinades.
To get the best possible cumin flavor for a dish, you should buy whole seeds and then lightly toast them.
But despite its clearly distinguishable taste there are many other spices that you can use in its place at a pinch as I believe our article above clearly demonstrates.
Are cumin and coriander the same?
Cumin and coriander are two spices that are often used in conjunction with each other. They both have an earthy quality to their flavor and also give a little heat when consumed.
However it is important to note that cumin and coriander are not the spice. They are derived from completely different plants, and they have markedly different flavor profiles. Coriander for example has a slight sweet flavor to it, whereas cumin on the other hand is slightly bitter.
They also look different from each other. Cumin seeds are flat and narrow shaped, while coriander seeds are larger, and more round. They also differ in color. Cumin seeds have a yellow-brown color, whereas coriander seeds have a brownish color with lines.
However, many people argue that despite the differing flavor profiles cumin makes an excellent stand in for coriander, since cumin has a warm, nutty, spicy flavor that resembles the earthy tones of coriander.
There you have it! Our ultimate list of substitutes for cumin.
So whether you have simply run out or just don’t like the taste, we think you’ll be pleased to find that there are many spices you can use in its place!
Our Best Substitute for Cumin
- Caraway Seeds
- Chili Powder
- Taco Seasoning
- Garam Masala
- Curry Powder
- Try our kitchen tested cumin substitutes.
Use in or with your favorite recipe.