Bringer of love and loyalty, an embalming agent, a sweet wedding gift, and also mentioned in the Bible…this is all cumin, believe it or not.
Its significance grew alongside our civilization. It was a cherished and rare comfort as well as a way to pay your taxes in Biblical times.
The Egyptians used it to embalm their most sacred rulers for the afterlife. In ancient times, it was a common spice for the rich, witnessing all the lavish feasts.
During the dark middle ages, cumin became a spiritual potion for keeping lovers and granting a long, happy marriage.
As cultures blossomed everywhere, it’s hard to find a cuisine where cumin wouldn’t be missed.
Unfortunately, you can’t pay taxes with it anymore, but still, the best foods humanity can offer would be a little bland without it.
But this is not a hill to die on… we’ll help you make the best of those cuminless cooking sessions! Before jumping in right away, let’s see what we have to put on the table to replace cumin.
First of all, cumin is actually a fruit. The small, dark seeds have grown throughout the Mediterranean and West Asia since Biblical times.
Today, all high-quality seeds are sourced solely from Iran and India. The enormous essential oil content of the seeds gives it the nose-piercing scent (some compare it to a dirty sock…). ( * )
All good chefs agree that it must be toasted to get the full flavor profile. However, their use is slightly different in each cuisine. Let’s see how…
Use of Cumin
Nothing speaks better about cumin’s popularity than the fact that it’s in every single spice blend you can find.
Its main uses have been roughly the same for the past 5000 years: marinade and rub for meats, particularly fowl, and spicing root vegetables.
Using cumin early in the recipe allows you to get every last bit of flavor out of it. The release of earthy, warm, aromatic elements is unmatched. ( * )
Without cumin, there’s no authentic pot of chili, soft hummus, African stew, East-European delicacy, or any Tex-Mex food at all.
If so, then how do we replace it?
Lucky us, Earth’s pantry is brimming with flavors waiting to be discovered, some of which are strikingly similar to each other.
Let’s go over our list of the best substitutes for cumin we can find.
The Best GROUND AND POWDER Cumin Substitutes!
We can’t let you down with some lame substitutes for the world’s second-most popular spice, which has a distinct flavor and aroma.
We need to nail it and match the flavor profile as closely as possible.
1. Caraway Seeds
The first few substitutes will be obvious choices, ones you might figure out yourself. However, we’ll surprise you with some gems later on.
Caraway is a no-brainer substitute for cumin; it comes from the same plant family, matches the taste, and is widely available in most stores.
This convenient choice is similar in appearance but bolder when cooked. We suggest you don’t overcook them and only sprinkle them into the dish at the final steps. ( * )
Ground for ground, seeds for seeds; that’s how you replace any spice. This stands for all the cumin substitutes on this list as well.
With caraway, the color of the food will be the same, but use half the amount when replacing cumin. Still, a hint of kick will be missing; that’s where paprika comes into play!
Caraway & Paprika- A match made in heaven
That missing heat that caraway lacks is exactly what paprika brings to the dish. Caraway’s citrusy, bitter, and anise-like tones will be perfectly complemented with a pinch of paprika.
To mimic cumin’s hot notes, simply add half caraway and half hot paprika to the dish. This combination is suitable for any recipe that calls for cumin.
The next one can also be paired up similarly to replace cumin.
This cilantro seed is also lacking heat but flawlessly matches the lemony, earthy tones of cumin. Though we must admit, it alters the final flavor in some ways.
Lacking the heat cumin has, it’s best to pair coriander with some smokey paprika or cayenne pepper.
When substituting cumin for coriander, only use half the amount, so the taste won’t be too off. Look for the ground version. If you have coriander seeds, toast them slightly before cooking.
Soups, chicken, milder Indian dishes, gravies, curries, burritos, and stews; all could use some coriander instead of cumin. ( * )
However, when making curry, substitute them in a 1:1 ratio instead of using half the amount.
And lastly, our favorite way to use coriander is with a pinch of allspice. Try it, and you’ll understand why!
Our third contender isn’t a perfect match in taste but will serve you well in replacing cumin in certain dishes.
3. Fennel seeds
Fennel is mostly a last-resort cumin replacement. But there are exceptions: Italian dishes, meatballs, sausages, and meaty dips. ( * )
The flavor is nothing like cumin, but somehow, the result will be impeccable with the dishes listed above.
Fennel brings a licorice undertone that’s out of place in most meals. So stick to our recommendations, and double the dose to replace cumin.
You may be wondering why it works with some things but not others.
The reason is simple; these dishes won’t miss the citrusy, earthy tones of cumin that fennel lacks. Specifically, Italian foods already have tomatoes or citrus, meatballs have other spices that provide earthiness, and so on.
However, there’s one more thing to keep in mind. When using fennel, which has a sweeter taste, add slightly more salt to the dish to complement the flavor profile.
Alternatively, you can add some liquid smoke, or smokey paprika to the recipe as well.
Learn more: Top 9 Fennel Seed Substitutes (FOR ANY RECIPES)
And since we’re talking about paprika, it’s a perfect substitute in certain dishes, so let’s see how we can use it in cuminless times.
Smokey and earthy paprika lacks some undertones: the fresh, bright lemony zazz.
Even with that, it’s quite a suitable cumin alternative. Start with less and gradually add more as you go.
With some luck, you’ll never burn paprika and taste that utterly bitter flavor. It’s hard to forget, so be mindful. ( * )
You can go for either a sweet, hot, or smokey one, or some blend of these. Paprika, unlike cumin, will give your food a deep blood-red tint.
With that in mind, we’d stick to stews, curries, and meats, as well as the occasional soup, to substitute cumin with paprika.
Learn more: Top Paprika Substitutes (#7 YOU MIGHT HAVE NOW)
Our next choice is milder in color but similarly wild and bold in taste.
5. Garam Masala
This spice blend is an everyday must in South African and Indian cooking. It has cumin, pepper, mace, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel, cardamom, and some cloves, making it a fitting alternative to plain cumin. ( * )
The interplay of these fine spices gives way to a sweet, citrusy, earthy, but moderately hot flavor. It’s easy to go overboard with it, as any dish needs half the garam masala than cumin.
Additionally, incorporate it only at the end of the cooking process to get the best of this blend. Unlike some other cumin alternatives, garam masala will give you an identical aroma and taste when moderately used.
It’s convenient in use, but easy to find as well. Most supermarkets have it in stock at all times.
Garam masala and our next cumin substitute have one thing in common: the raw, earthy, potent aromas.
Learn more: Garam Masala Substitutes
6. Sumac powder
Sumac is a Middle Eastern powerhouse, bringing forth the citrus and earthiness in anything.
Overdoing it is a valid concern, as it only takes a hint to achieve the same flavor as cumin. Additionally, it adds extra layers to your dish.
These are bold red berries from a bush, ground into a fine powder. Just like paprika, it colors your food a vibrant, blazing red. ( * )
If you’ve ever used za’atar, you likely had some sumac, as it’s a key ingredient in this ancient blend. The tartness and versatility make it an apt ingredient in any dish, not just oriental ones.
Surprisingly, its cutting sourness blends amazingly with any common spice you might add to it. And as opposed to the previous substitutes for cumin, it is excellent with vegetarian recipes and root vegetables too.
Our best bet is to spice up some homemade hummus with sumac. It’s a whole experience!
Besides veggies, chefs routinely rub it on duck and lamb roasts, as it goes well with fatty meats. Stews and salad dressings can benefit from it as well.
Sticking to seeds, our next cumin alternative is similarly flavorful but used in vastly different ways.
7. Nigella seeds
Crunchy nigella seeds will exceed your expectations in stews, soups, or curries, as well as bread, pasta, or pastries.
This punchy addition is also called black cumin, as it bears identical tones. Some might taste nutty and be slightly hotter.
Use them in whatever you’d normally use cumin in, not just Middle Eastern or African meals. Stir-fry, lentils, root vegetables, seafood, or curry. ( * )
Its herbaceousness is detectable but not overpowering. And this is also true for the next convenient substitute for cumin.
There’s a good chance you have some nutmeg at home, but you only discover it around Christmas, or for special fall recipes. That’s a shame, as it’s one of the most versatile spices.
You can literally replace cumin with nutmeg in ANY recipe you can think of. The taste is mild and blends well with any spices.
The subtle warmness is not only for Christmas; it brings out the best earthy tones in any dish. ( * )
After a wide array of cumin substitutes, we still have some tricks in our sleeves. Let’s wrap things up and get some more pro tips.
We saved the best for last for all the experimental and curious home cooks.
There are three other potent alternatives to cumin, all less-known, mainly used in local cuisines: achiote powder, shiso leaves, and ajwain/carom seeds.
If you have the means and time, all of them will be amazing cumin replacements. You might find yourself not missing cumin at all eventually.
Take it as a chance to find new flavors, and discover unknown ingredients. Cooking is a whole experience in itself, with or without cumin.