Cumin is a spice from the dried seed of the cumin plant which is a member of the parsley family.
It is a household staple spice used in almost all cuisines worldwide; right from Indian curries to Mexican fajitas. Its flavor can be described as warm, earthy, nutty, citrusy, and slightly peppery.
It is used in recipes in either form; whole seeds or ground. Whole seeds are used in curries and the ground form works well in chili and baked beans.
As much as cumin is a common spice, there are times when it may be difficult to get your hands on it. As such, it would serve us well to know a couple of substitutes for it.
Not that many, they include caraway seeds, ground coriander, curry powder, and taco seasoning that all add something unique to the meal at hand while still keeping it close to cumin.
Where to buy Cumin
This spice cumin can be purchased either as whole cumin seeds or as ground cumin powder. As we all know, it can be found in the spice section of most grocery stores and supermarkets.
Much cheaper and fresher cumin can be bought at international farmers' markets such as Indian, African, or even Mexican markets.
Additionally, in this era of the internet, you can definitely also find online retailers that always seem to have a stock of fresh spices when everyone else runs out.
When shopping in bulk, I would recommend buying whole cumin seeds as they last much longer than their ground cumin counterpart.
Cumin is best used as whole seeds or ground just before doing the cooking. This plays the part of making the flavor of cumin much more pronounced.
What are the Cumin Substitutes?
Picture this scenario, you are halfway through preparing a recipe, and you are stopped dead in your tracks by the realization that you are all out of cumin.
Or, you are in a position where you are allergic to cumin or are preparing a meal for someone who is allergic to cumin or whatever the reason, all is not lost.
You can still prepare quite a delicious meal with just a hint of cumin flavor. Here are some great alternatives, from individual spices to more diverse spice blends.
They may actually be sitting in your pantry ready for you to try them right now! Additionally, these substitutes tend to come packed with a plethora of health benefits for us when we eat or use them.
- Ground Coriander
This is definitely one of the best substitutes to use in place of cumin. Well, cumin and coriander can be considered relatives.
This is because they belong to the same parsley family known as” Apiaceae” and as such they share some flavor characteristics. Just like cumin, ground coriander offers a citrusy and earthy flavor.
The only difference is that coriander is milder in terms of the heat it adds and smokiness. Nonetheless, ground coriander is a great alternative to cumin in dishes such as curries and burritos.
When using ground coriander, using a half teaspoon of coriander to replace one teaspoon of cumin is more than enough. If you would like to add more heat to your dish, sprinkle some chili powder or cayenne pepper onto the dish.
Let us not forget that ground coriander also offers some health benefits. It promotes digestion, may help lower blood sugar levels in some individuals, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and for the win can also help relieve symptoms of the common cold.
- Caraway seeds
Also known as Persian cumin, caraway seeds also serve as a great alternative to cumin. Cumin and caraway seeds are another set of cousins belonging to the parsley family.
Their seeds are easily confused by most people. They are in fact, kind of similar; oblong in shape with a mustardy-brown color. Similar to cumin, caraway seeds have a nutty flavor to them with a hint of citrus.
However, caraway seeds, just like ground coriander, are milder in comparison to cumin. You can pair them with cayenne pepper to turn up the heat a notch. They are a perfect substitute when used in Middle Eastern and South Asian dishes.
Always ensure to substitute one teaspoon of cumin for a half teaspoon of caraway seeds. You can gradually add more caraway seeds to taste.
It is good to note that caraway seeds are a great addition to one's diet. They are a great source of essential vitamins such as E, A, and C, niacin, have antioxidant properties and greatly aid in digestion.
- Chilli Powder
Chilli powder is an awesome spice blend that contains a number of spices including our very own cumin.
It may also contain paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, and ground cayenne. When using chili powder as a substitute, you may want to consider the additional flavors the other spices bring into the recipe and the red hue it will add to your dish.
Chili powder works well in dishes such as tacos.
Generally, you replace one teaspoon of cumin with a half teaspoon of chili powder. Different chili powders contain different amounts of cumin in them, so you will essentially have to adjust to your preference and taste. Pure chili powder on the other hand does not have any cumin and as such will not work well as a substitute in any recipe or dish.
Chili powder has the effect of increasing blood flow to the brain thus helping in improving our cognitive functions. It is also packed with quite a bit of vitamin C that helps in fighting infections and iron as well which is necessary for the formation of new blood cells that we all need.
- Taco seasoning
Another spice blend with cumin as one of its main ingredients is taco seasoning. As with chili powder, you should always keep in mind the additional flavors taco seasoning gives your dishes and use them appropriately.
It also contains some salt, so add it before you use salt or any higher-sodium condiments. Taco seasoning works well with tacos, of course, and enchiladas as well.
You can always substitute one teaspoon of cumin powder with approximately a half teaspoon or less of taco seasoning.
Taste the dish and adjust the seasoning to your preference as you go along with the cooking.
- Curry powder
Curry powder is also another blend of spices that also has cumin as one of its ingredients thus making it an easy cumin substitute.
Curry powder adds some other flavors and also brings a yellow tone to your dish. It is a more ideal substitute of cumin in South East Asian dishes.
With curry powder in a recipe, you use a half teaspoon of curry powder for every teaspoon of cumin.
- Garam Masala
Garam masala is a complex spice and herb blend with a sort of citrusy, earthy, spicy yet sweet flavor that, you guessed it, contains cumin.
It is best added at the end of cooking or much later in your cooking process to attain the maximum flavor.
Note that the other spices contained in garam masala could alter the final taste of your dish. Garam masala best substitutes cumin in Indian and South African dishes.
When using garam masala as a substitute in a recipe, start with half a teaspoon of garam masala for every teaspoon of cumin. Then, as always, adjust the seasoning to suit your liking.
- Fennel seeds
Yes, yet another member of the parsley family is fennel seeds. They however have a different flavor in comparison to cumin.
Fennel seeds have this anise-like, licorice flavor that cumin lacks. They also are not as earthy or smoky as cumin tends to be.
But, when they are mixed with paprika, fennel seeds can work as a substitute in dishes such as Italian sausages and meatballs.
Just like cumin, paprika is smoky and earthy in flavor.
It works best as an alternative for those individuals who prefer a less spicy dish as paprika is milder in terms of heat compared to cayenne pepper. Paprika is considered by chefs as perfect for stews, broths, and soups.
Other Alternatives to Cumin.
This is a much smoky and spicy alternative to cumin.
All you need to do is add a little amount of chipotle seasoning, taste the dish, and adjust as required. Chipotle seasoning is best used in Southwestern dishes that are made with cumin.
The jury is still out on this one.
Chefs still cannot come to a consensus on whether anise seeds can be used as a substitute for cumin. But, when anise seeds are paired with caraway seeds, you get a cumin-like flavor minus the bitter taste of course.
There is no one spice that replicates the exact nutty, citrusy, and earthy flavor that cumin brings to a dish.
However, its close cousins; coriander, and caraway seeds come pretty close if I do say so myself.
A general rule of thumb is to always substitute ground for ground and whole for the whole. That means, ground coriander for ground cumin or alternatively coriander seeds for cumin seeds.