Cumin is a quintessential ingredient in most curry dishes and many spice blends. It’s almost a must-have item in most savory recipes like stews, chili, fish, meat, and vegetables.
Cumin seed, with its aromatic and nutty flavor, is a nice addition to your recipe especially when you are making Indian or Mexican dishes. This spice belonging to the family of Apiaceae plans has a warm, earthy flavor and aroma with a mixture of both hot and bitter taste.
If for some reason you don’t have it then use any of the substitutes for cumin I have listed here.
Top 3 Cumin Substitutes
You may want to find an alternative to cumin for reasons like unavailability, personal dislikes for taste, or it simply didn’t make its way onto your grocery list.
Every spice has a unique flavor profile. For this reason, it’s difficult to find a perfect replacement for spices with unique flavor profiles like cumin.
Here are a few spices or blends that you can use in place of cumin. First, let us look at the top 3 substitutes and then other possible alternatives.
1. Caraway Seeds
Caraway seeds and cumin resemble each other in their oblong shape and color. In addition, they both belong to the parsley family of plants.
Caraway seeds’ flavor quite well matches the slightly hot and bitter flavor of cumin; however, use it in less quantity like half the measure of cumin required for the recipe.
Use ground caraway in place of ground cumin, or caraway seeds in place of cumin seeds.
Many chefs recommend using a blend of anise seeds and caraway seeds to achieve the same flavor of cumin. As a caution, this blend may work well for recipes that can accommodate the licorice-like flavor of anise seeds.
2. Ground Coriander
Cumin and coriander share similar flavor profiles as they both belong to the parsley family.
Most spice blends and seasonings contain both these spices as essential ingredients in several dishes in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Indian cuisines.
Coriander is milder than cumin in terms of heat but both share a lemony, earthy flavor.
While substituting, start using coriander in less quantity than cumin but if needed add more to achieve the desired flavor.
Many home chefs recommend adding a little chili powder to coriander powder to match the hotness level of cumin. Thus use a blend of half a teaspoon of coriander powder and ¼ teaspoon chili powder in place of 1 teaspoon cumin powder.
3. Blended Chili Powder
Essentially, chili powder is the dried, pulverized fruit of one or more varieties of chili pepper. But most brands of chili powder contain not only chili peppers but also other hot spices like cumin, coriander, and more.
So, if you are missing cumin, then use a chili powder blend that contains cumin. Also, other usual ingredients in chili powder like paprika, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, and ground cayenne go well in place of cumin.
The blended chili powder has a complex flavor derived from several ingredients. For this reason, this substitute works best in making dishes like Indian curries and baked beans.
If your recipe calls for one tablespoon of ground cumin then use only half a tablespoon of chili powder.
Note that pure chili powder (ground chili pepper) contains no cumin and therefore is not a good substitute.
Other Replacements For Cumin
Like the chili powder, there are other spice mixtures with cumin as one of the ingredients. Let us now see a few such swaps for cumin that’ll work in some of the recipes that require cumin.
Taco seasoning is quite similar to chili powder as both of them have more or less the same ingredients with cumin most prominent among them. What is extra in taco seasoning is the inclusion of black pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, and salt.
Using Taco seasoning instead of cumin will add a bit more complex flavor to your recipes, as well as more heat.
Instead of cumin, you can use Taco seasoning in recipes that require higher sodium condiments like Worcestershire sauce.
Garam masala is a popular spice mixture commonly used in many Indian dishes. It is a nice alternative to cumin for it has cumin as a major ingredient. Even in appearance, they do look the same.
Also, it typically includes other hot ingredients like coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, and black pepper. All these ingredients in a balanced amount give your recipe a complex flavor that is at once sweet, earthy, citrusy, and spicy.
While using a substitute, start with half of the amount of cumin called for in the recipe and if required add more at the end of cooking.
Cumin is one of the key ingredients in curry powder.
In addition to cumin, it typically includes about 20 spices and herbs. Other prominent ingredients are fenugreek, ginger, cardamom, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, and black pepper.
The mixture of various spices in the curry powder will definitely give a complex flavor to your recipe. These spices yield a warm and aromatic note with a deep yellow color.
Curry powder works best in Southeast Asian dishes.
For every teaspoon of cumin powder, use ½ teaspoon curry powder instead.
The Bottom Line
Cumin is an important spice ingredient, especially in Indian cooking. It is an earthy, aromatic spice that brings citrusy flavor to a recipe.
When you’re in a pinch, there are several replacement options that you can choose from.
If you ask me, then I’d recommend caraway seeds and ground coriander as the best spices that can very well mimic the cumin flavor. You may also use any spice mixture like garam masala or chili powder that contains cumin as an alternative but they’ll impact the overall taste of your recipe.