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What Are the Different Cumin Substitutes?

Cumin's warm, earthy flavor is unique, but when in a pinch, substitutes like coriander, caraway seeds, or a garam masala blend can save your dish. Each alternative offers a distinct taste profile, ensuring your culinary creations remain deliciously seasoned. Curious about how these substitutes measure up to the real thing? Let's explore their flavors and best uses in your favorite recipes.
Liz Thomas
Liz Thomas

Some of the different cumin substitutes include caraway seeds, chili powder, garam masala, curry powder or a mixture of caraway and anise seeds. Certain substitutions, such as caraway, are better than others. Someone who is cooking should try to match the style of the dish with the spice substitution for the best results.

Cumin is a spice that traditionally is used in chili as well as African, Latin American and Indian dishes. This spice has a distinct flavor that is nutty, peppery and citrus-like at the same time. It not only has a spicy taste but contains many nutrients that provide health benefits.

This spice can be found as whole seeds or ground into a powder. The seed resembles caraway seeds, because it is yellow-brown and oblong. Cumin originates from Egypt but is grown in the Mediterranean, China, India and the Middle East.

Star anise, along with caraway, can make a good substitute for cumin.
Star anise, along with caraway, can make a good substitute for cumin.

Many people consider caraway to be the best choice out of all of the cumin substitutes. Caraway and cumin both come from the same plant family. These two spices therefore have some similar qualities, including the flavor. Caraway is a stronger spice than cumin. When substituting with caraway, one should reduce the amount by half.

Black cumin seeds are different from the common cumin spice, though they can be used as cumin substitutes. These seeds are smaller and sweeter. The flavor of black cumin is more floral and peppery. The taste also is considerably less bitter. Black cumin can be found at most Indian food stores.

Ground cumin.
Ground cumin.

A mixture of caraway and anise seeds is another one of the possible cumin substitutes. Anise seeds have a distinct flavor similar to tarragon, fennel and licorice. They therefore cannot be used singularly in place of cumin. The mixture with caraway alters the flavor so that it is more similar to cumin.

Another possible substitution is toasted chili powder, though this spice is least similar of all the possible cumin substitutes. Chili powder provides the spice that is part of cumin, but it lacks the citrus and nutty flavors. If too much chili powder is added, then the dish might become too spicy, altering the intended flavors.

Garam masala or curry powder also can be used, because cumin is a common ingredient in each of these spice mixtures. Cooks should be aware that garam masala contains many other spices besides cumin. Not all curry powder contains the same spices, so the ingredient list should be read before it is used as a cumin substitute. Garam masala and curry powder should be used as cumin substitutes only as a last resort.

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Discussion Comments


I don't think that there is a perfect substitute for cumin. It's such a unique flavor, complex and spicy but not over the top. It's difficult to explain!

If I don't have cumin at home, then I try to make up for it by adding a little bit of ground chili pepper, ginger, black pepper and turmeric. Of course, the flavor is not the same. The best substitute for cumin, is cumin!


@donasmrs-- I don't use cumin at all because I don't like it. I had ethnic food with cumin about ten years ago. It was so strong that I've avoided cumin ever since. When something calls for cumin, I add extra black pepper. I think it works just fine.


Garam masala and curry are the best substitutes for cumin because they have cumin as an ingredient. In fact, for a long time, I didn't have cumin at home and I was adding garam masala to all my dishes that called for cumin.

Garam masala is probably a better substitute than curry because curry has a stronger flavor that easily overpowers other flavors in a dish. Garam masala is not like that and I can easily use it in place of cumin when I need to cook with it. I use the same amount that I would normally use if I had cumin.

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    • Star anise, along with caraway, can make a good substitute for cumin.
      Star anise, along with caraway, can make a good substitute for cumin.
    • Ground cumin.
      By: marylooo
      Ground cumin.