Carom Seeds Substitute – 5 Stand-in Ingredients To Use

They say that chewing down a spoonful of carom seeds daily in the morning can improve digestion, and metabolism, and promote weight loss. Besides the health benefits, they taste great in cookies, bread, tea, chapatti, or poori.

What to do when you have run out of carom seeds (ajwain)? What can you use in place of ajwain? This article examines the best carom seed substitutes, and a little about their flavor profile and uses.

What are carom seeds?

Carom seeds are harvested from an annual herb in the family Apiaceae, such as caraway, cumin, and fennel. They are also known in other names like ajwain, ajowan, Trachyspermum ammi, ajowan caraway, thymol seeds, or bishop’s weed. In India, carom seeds are popularly known as ajwain, its Hindi name.

Ajwain’s small, oval-shaped, seed-like fruits are pale brown with a resemblance to fennel or caraway seeds.

Carom seeds and leaves are used in cooking and alternative medicines. Aj Seeds are a spice used in several Indian dishes, particularly in Gujarati foods, for their nice flavor and aroma.

These seeds are available in Indian grocery stores or you can get them from online vendors. If you can’t get them, try any substitutes listed in this article.

What do carom seeds taste like?

Ajwain seeds are fruits of the ajwain herb although referred to as “seeds”. They look olive green to brown in color with close similarity to cumin or caraway seeds in appearance. These seeds also have vertical stripes on their outer surface like cumin. Carom seeds have a bitter-pungent taste. Its earthy and minty aroma has a close similarity to thyme because they both contain the compound thymol.

Culinary uses of carom seeds

How do you cook with ajwain seeds?  Several Indian dishes make good use of ajwain for taste and aroma. In Indian cooking, this spice is often part of the tadka in a dish. It’s used in bread, and pastries such as paratha, and roti, and as a seasoning for vegetarian dishes. Adding a pinch of carom seeds to potato fries and other vegetable curries makes them delicious.

In the Middle East, ajwain is often used to boost the flavor of rice and meat dishes. Also, used as a preservative in pickles, chutneys, and jams.

Like cumin, these seeds have a strong, dominant flavor, thus ajwain is used in small quantities and is almost always cooked.

What is a good carom seed substitute?

Carom seeds are not available everywhere as their use in cooking is limited to a few regions only. If you don’t have carom seeds urgently required for a dish, then you can use a substitute to save your dish. Here are the best alternative ingredients to consider:

1. Dried thyme

Dried thyme leaves are not a seed like ajwain seeds but they both are a lot similar in taste and aroma. They are rich in a compound called thymol which is responsible for their similarities. Thus dried thyme is a good stand-in ingredient for carom seeds despite its musty undertone.  There are different types of thyme but common thyme is the best alternative to ajwain. Use the dried thyme in the same amount of carom seeds required in your recipe.

2. Mediterranean oregano

Regular oregano is an Italian spice with earthy notes and minty undertones, a member of the mint family of Mediterranean origin.  Like ajwain, Mediterranean oregano has earthy notes and a sharp aroma with a pungent note. Oregano would work well in most recipes that call for carom seeds.

Most of the dishes that include carom seeds require longer cooking. In this scenario, Mediterranean oregano can very hold up to longer cooking times.

Use oregano in a smaller quantity than carom seeds for it is slightly more pungent with a stronger aroma.

3. Marjoram

Marjoram is very similar to thyme and oregano in flavor, thus it’s another replacement for carom seeds worth considering. Earthy and minty notes of marjoram will very well complement other ingredients in most recipes that require carom seeds. However, it has a weaker flavor and aroma in comparison to ajwain and does not hold up to long-time cooking.

Use dried marjoram in the same amount or a little more quantity than the carom seeds required for your dish.

4. Dried tarragon

Most chefs recommend using dried tarragon as a stand-in ingredient for thyme, thus a suitable substitute for carom seeds as well. Note, flavor-wise tarragon tastes more like licorice or anise (somewhat sweet and slightly bitter) that may not work in some recipes that call for ajwain.

5. Cumin

Carom seeds and cumin belong to the same family of plants and they both have a similar appearance. In fact, they both provide a similar pungent note to your dish although they differ in aroma. In a pinch, cumin is a worthy carom seed substitute in most recipes.

Final Thoughts

Carom seeds, used in limited regional cuisines, can be replaced with various alternatives. Dried thyme, similar in taste and aroma due to thymol, is the closest substitute, used in equal amounts as carom seeds.

Mediterranean oregano, with earthy, sharp, and pungent notes, should be used sparingly. Marjoram, similar to thyme and oregano, offers a milder flavor and aroma, requiring equal or slightly more quantity.

Dried tarragon, with a licorice-like taste, and cumin, offering a similar pungency, are also suitable substitutes.

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