Has it ever happened to you that you need cumin powder for a particular recipe, only to realize that you don’t have one in your spice cabinet? Maybe you’re preparing chicken curry or your own taco seasoning. So you wonder—is there any substitute for cumin that you can use?
What is cumin?
Before I answer that question, let's first take a closer look at this popular spice.
Cumin comes from the herb Cuminum cyminum which belongs to the parsley family. It originated from South Asia and was introduced in other parts of the world such as the Middle East and North America through the spice trade.
Cumin has a nutty and slightly peppery taste. Many people are turned off by its funky smell. However, you won't notice that odor at all when you use cumin in cooking.
The cumin seeds are small and oblong in shape. The powdered cumin is colored light orange and brown. Cumin seeds are slightly spicier than the powder version.
You may wonder which is a better buy - - cumin powder or cumin seeds?
Personally thinking, I am more inclined to buy whole ground cumin instead of cumin powder. The reason is that cumin powder has the tendency to lose its flavor quickly.
I also prefer the spicier taste of cumin seeds. Plus you can easily make your own cumin powder by grinding the seeds with a mortar and pestle.
Purchase and storage of cumin
I do know that cumin is widely available in most supermarkets. If you can’t find one in your local grocery, you can go to a spice store. This type of store usually features a wide range of dried herbs and spices.
I suggest you get organically grown dried cumin whenever possible.
I would usually store cumin seed in a tightly sealed jar. Then I place it in a cool and dry area. Ground cumin can be safe to use up to six months while the whole seeds can stay fresh for more than a year.
How is cumin used?
Cumin is a spice that we often associate with spicy foods. It is an ingredient which you can expect in Middle Eastern foods. It gives a different kind of kick to Middle Eastern meatballs which I really love.
Cumin is also a staple ingredient in other Middle Eastern recipes such as Mjaddarah or rice with lentils and Muhammara with flatbread triangles.
You will likely need it if you are to cook Indian dishes. Cumin is used to make curry powder and garam masala. It is also a fixture in Mexican and Spanish dishes.
I have observed that cumin works best when you combine it with vegetables like cabbage, eggplant, and butter squash. It can also spice up dishes with beans, rice, chicken, and rice.
As far as other spices are concerned, you can combine cumin with yellow mustard, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, paprika, turmeric, and fennel.
What are the health benefits of cumin?
Cumin is not merely a common ingredient for spicy dishes. It is also valued for its numerous health benefits as well.
Cumin seeds, for one, are known to be a great source of iron. This is the mineral that plays essential roles in energy production and metabolism. It is also a key component of hemoglobin which transports oxygen to all body cells.
Iron is instrumental in keeping a well-functioning immune system. It is also needed by pregnant or lactating women.
Cumin seeds are also noted for promoting a healthy digestive system. Numerous studies have linked it to pancreatic enzyme secretion. Pancreatic enzymes are compounds essential for proper digestion as well as nutrient assimilation.
Finally, cumin seeds are also said to have anti-carcinogenic properties.
Top Cumin substitutes
The good news is that there are plenty of spices that can be used in lieu of cumin. These are the top cumin substitutes that I would recommend:
1. Coriander seeds
Cumin and coriander seeds are often used together in Indian cuisine because their flavors complement each other well. Coriander is typically used in making the masala while cumin is for tempering a dish.
It should be noted, though, that the flavor of cumin is different from coriander seeds. Coriander has a certain sweetness to it. Cumin, on the other hand, is slightly bitter than coriander seeds.
Still, I can recommend this is a good substitute to cumin. This is very much true if you are preparing Indian and Mediterranean dishes.
I normally use more Coriander when substituting it for cumin. For example, I would use a teaspoon of Coriander for every ¾ teaspoon of cumin required by the recipe I am following.
2. Chipotle powder
With its sthey taste, it is not surprising that chipotle makes it to this list of the top cumin substitutes.
Chipotle powder is commonly used in spicing up dishes like grilled chicken, pork ribs, hummus, and shredded Mexican beef, among others. I also know other people who use it for a smoky flavor to salad dressings.
You don’t need to be a math wizard to be able to determine the amount of chipotle powder to use in lieu of cumin. You will simply have to put the chipotle powder in the same amount of cumin as stated in the recipe.
This is another spice which gives a distinct flavor to any dish that it is added to. Paprika powder has a very characteristic bright red appearance, having been derived from hot dried peppers. If you want to know about some paprika substitues, check this article.
It is a staple spice in European dishes. Paprika is used as the main flavoring in stews in Austria and Hungary. In the eastern part of Europe, it is used in flavoring vegetable dishes like soured cabbage.
In Spain, paprika is used to flavor chorizo salami. Meanwhile, the Portuguese are known to use it for adding a hint of spice to fish stews as well as salt cod.
Paprika can also be added to chicken and lamb dishes to give the foods a spicy depth. Or you can pinch it over creamy scrambled eggs.
Similar to chipotle powder, you can use paprika powder to replace cumin. I suggest that you use it in the same way that you would use cumin in the recipe that you are following.
4. Caraway seeds
Caraway seeds are often mistaken for cumin. The taste of caraway seeds is also not far from that of cumin powder.
In fact, I cannot blame you if you often mistake cumin with caraway seeds. They really look alike although the latter is darker in color. It is also slightly curved compared to cumin. In terms of taste, caraway seeds also have a more bitter taste.
Both caraway seeds and cumin are part of the parsley family. This explains why they are similar in taste and appearance.
You can use caraway in lieu of cumin, whether you need cumin seeds or powder.
But I suggest that you use just half of the caraway as the recipe calls for. So if the recipe says ½ teaspoon of cumin powder, start with ¼ teaspoon of caraway powder.
5. Chili Powder
Did you know that commercially available chili powder is made of various spices including cumin?
So it makes sense to use chili powder in place of cumin especially if you need to spice up the dish you are preparing.
However, use chili powder with cumin as one of its ingredients. Read the label first before buying the chili powder.
Don't buy pure chili powder as it likely has no cumin in it.
You can simply use chili powder in the same way that cumin powder is used in the recipe you are following.
Like Cumin, Turmeric is a spice that is a fixture in Indian dishes. Both Cumin and Turmeric have a warm and earthy flavor. I just find Turmeric a bit milder than Cumin.
In terms of nutritional value, both spices have high iron content.
While you can substitute Turmeric for Cumin, you should keep in mind that the former has a yellow color. Thus replacing Cumin with Turmeric may affect the color of the dish.
7. Fennel seeds
Sure, fennel seeds and cumin don’t have similarities in flavor. I find fennel seeds to be way sweeter than cumin. But a friend who’s also a chef swears that fennel seeds can be used to substitute cumin when making Italian dishes like meatballs, sausages, and sauces.
You also don’t need to do a lot of math in figuring out a number of fennel seeds to use in lieu of cumin. Simply use the same amount of cumin as mentioned in the recipe that you are following.
These are seven excellent substitutes for cumin in case you don’t have one in your spice cabinet, or you simply can’t stand its smell.
One final piece of advice-- if you are unsure of the amount of cumin substitute to use, the safest bet is to start with half of the amount of cumin stated in the recipe. Then add more of the cumin substitute as needed.
I hope you learned something new after reading this article. I also encourage you to share this post with your friends on social media. I am sure that they will also find this article very informative and helpful.