Cumin Substitute: The 6 Alternatives Worth Giving A Try

Do you need a cumin substitute? I have as much as six suggestions for you. Try all of these spices and discover a whole new world of flavors!

Cumin is definitely one of the most popular spices in the world, and as such, it is never too difficult to find. Most stores sell it, but that does not mean that you will never run out of it.

Moreover, by Murphy's Law, that will happen when you most need it (usually in the middle of your cooking), and thus you will require an instant replacement.

What can you use to replace this aromatic spice?

There are six cumin substitutes that are not only easy to find (you probably already have most of them in your kitchen spice cabinet) but also have a similar flavor and health benefits.

Hence, let us explore the world of spices that can substitute cumin when needed…

A Few Words about Cumin

Before we start discussing cumin substitutes, let us make sure that we know all the essential facts about this spice.

1. What is cumin?

  • Cumin is a spice that comes from a warm-climate flowering plant native to Egypt. People use the seeds of this plant in both whole and ground form.

2. How long has cumin been used for?

  • It has been used for so long that it was even mentioned in the Bible. There is evidence that both Ancient Greeks and Romans used cumin in their everyday cooking.
  • Egyptians had a different use for cumin as ground cumin was one of their key ingredients for the mummification.
  • As far as Europe is concerned, cumin became popular in the Middle Ages as a substitute for black pepper which was far more expensive.
  • Here in the USA, there is a common misconception that cumin is a Mexican spice used in Mexican cuisine only. In reality, as you could already see, cumin is widely used all around the world, especially in India, but also in the North African and Southeast Asian cuisine.

3. How does cumin taste?

  • Most people describe cumin taste as nutty and earthy with a somewhat bitter aftertaste. Some even feel a citrus undertone. The flavor of cumin is very versatile, and thus it can be a part of numerous tasty dishes.

4. Why should you use cumin?

  • Cumin is rich in iron, magnesium, copper, zinc, potassium, and calcium. Besides these essential minerals that help your body function to its best possibilities, cumin is also packed with valuable antioxidants that help you fight off cancer. Due to the dietary fiber content, this spice can aid your digestion too.
  • Cumin can help if you suffer from respiratory disorders too but it doesn't end there: it will lower inflammation, prevent chronic disease and speed the recuperation process as well. It generally boosts your immunity.
  • All these health benefits were well known to our ancestors as well, and therefore cumin was an essential element of many traditional medical practices. If you are about to try cumin for the first time be careful as some people are allergic to this spice!
  • If you want to learn more about the cumin health benefits, read the article from Medical News Today.

The 6 Best Substitutes For Cumin

If your recipe calls for cumin and you realize you don't have any on hand, you can try using one of six alternatives I am about to list. None will taste 100% the same, but they all resemble the original and will save your dish from tasting blunt.

With no further ado, here are the six best cumin substitutes:

1. Caraway Seeds

Back in the old days when I was a young, inexperienced cook I thought that cumin was a variation of caraway seeds and that the two are basically the same. I was not entirely wrong though since both cumin and caraway belong to the parsley family.

The two also taste similar and look alike. The difference, when it comes to taste, is that cumin is a bit stronger and has more hotness to it.

If you need to use whole cumin seeds, just use the same amount of caraway seeds. The same goes for ground cumin - replace it with the same amount of ground caraway. If you are not sure about the taste, start with half of the amount the recipe calls for and add more if you feel the need.

As far as the color of your dish is concerned, there should not be any difference when you use caraway instead of cumin.

2. Ground Coriander

Ground coriander, or cilantro, is yet another member of the parsley family that can replace cumin in your recipe. Do know that it will change the overall flavor of the dish you are preparing.

The earthy flavor and citrusy note resemble the cumin, but coriander lacks the heat cumin has. For this reason, you can combine coriander with chili powder that will add heat to your recipe. For example, use half a tablespoon of coriander and a bit of chili to substitute one tablespoon of cumin.

3. Chili Powder

You could already see that chili can be combined with ground coriander as an alternative for cumin. The news is that chili can be used on its own as well as it too has a lot of common with cumin.

In fact, cumin is actually one of the main ingredients in chili powder, and thus you will definitely taste it in your dish. Unfortunately, there are some ingredients of chili powder that are bound to change the taste of your food such as paprika, cayenne pepper, oregano, onion, and garlic powder. Try to anticipate how these ingredients will work in your recipe and use the chili powder accordingly.

My advice is to start with a minimal amount and slowly add more chili until you get the taste you feel comfortable with. You can always add more, but there is no turning back the time if you overdo it.

You should also know that besides flavor, chili will alter the color of your dish too. Cumin has brownish color while chili powder is red.

Related: Canned Chili

4. Garam Masala

Garam Masala is an Indian spice mix that includes a good portion of cumin as well. Besides cumin, it is made from coriander, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon.

The taste of this complex spice is as complex, to say the least: it is earthy, citrusy, sweet and spicy - all at the same time!

On the bright side, the color of Garam Masala is similar to that of cumin, and therefore your dish will appear almost the same. Do add this spice sparingly until you are sure you like the taste of your altered dish.

5. Curry Powder

Curry powder is yet another spice mixture that heavily relies on cumin. Besides cumin curry also includes spices such as ginger, coriander, turmeric, mustard, black pepper, fenugreek seed, and cinnamon.

As far as the taste goes, curry has an earthy aroma with a balanced sweet and spicy flavor. It is bound to change the taste of your recipe, but the change of color will be much more evident, believe me. Curry powder is bright yellow and always dominates in a dish.

When it comes to dosage, I can only repeat my advice once more: add this cumin substitute sparingly as you can always easily add more but subtracting it is almost impossible.

6. Taco Seasoning Mix

Taco seasoning is quite similar to chili powder. The ingredients are almost the same: first of all, there is cumin (yay!), and then paprika, crushed red pepper flakes, oregano, pepper, garlic, and onion powder. It also contains chili powder.

Besides all the above-listed ingredients, taco seasoning mix features a high amount of salt too. For this reason, you should reduce the amount of salt your recipe calls for, or you can easily end up with a dish that is too salty. Add this mix sparingly as well in order to tweak the recipe to your personal taste!

Conclusion

Now that you have my list of suitable cumin substitutes, it should not be too difficult to replace this precious spice in the time of need.

Any of these spices can take cumin’s place whenever you do not have any cumin around. Of course, you will need to alter the recipe a bit, but I am sure you can manage if you take things slow and do not rush anything!

I have already given you a good rule of thumb you should remember: it is better to start with less and add these spices slowly.

If you add too much of one spice, you will never be able to take it out - your dish will be ruined! The worst case scenario leaves you with two dire options: you can either start over or eat something you do not enjoy at all!

If you have some cumin substitutes up your sleeve, please share that valuable knowledge with all of us too!

Barbara Whitney
 

For the last 20 years, I’ve been cooking, preparing, researching, and gathering recipes, tools, and knowledge about food and the way we prepare it. Raising two lively boys and spoiling one great husband later, it’s safe to say that I’ve optimized my kitchen to deliver the best possible meal, no matter the occasion.

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