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7 Cumin Substitute Options

If you are in the middle of making dinner or special dish for a holiday or a party and find that you are out of cumin and need it for your recipe, never fear because there are several options when it comes to other spices that can be used as substitutes for cumin.

This is a close look at bowls of ground cumin powder along with dried seeds.

Cumin boasts a nutty, lemony taste and is a spice that is used in many dishes and different cuisines. 

From chili to soups and Indian curries and guacamole, cumin brings the heat and the flavor. Cumin seeds have a flat, narrow shape to them and are the form of cumin we use most often in our cooking, along with cumin powder, which is simply the seeds that have been grounded into a powder form. Cumin is pronounced Q-men and is a native spice to the Middle East.

The seeds are part of a flowering plant that is also sometimes referred to as Jeera or Jerrakam which is the Hindu version of the word. It is normally used when referring to cumin tea, also known as jeera water, which is very popular in the weight loss industry.

Related: Types of Cumin | How to Store Cumin | Types of Food | Types of Condiments | Types of Garnish | What Goes With Cumin | Cumin vs. Coriander

Benefits of Cumin Seeds and the Cumin Plant

This is a close look at a pile of cumin seeds.

Cumin is boasted as one of the healthiest spices that you can use in your cooking. The cumin plant has several medicinal uses, including the fact that it is known to improve digestion by riveting up the activity of enzymes in your gut and helping you to be able to better process many nutrients including fats.

Cumin can be an antibacterial agent that can help eliminate foodborne illnesses and is also a very great source of iron. The cumin plant contains an array of different minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins that can enhance your overall health and well-being.

If you are in the middle of making dinner or a special dish for a holiday or a party and find that you are out of ground cumin seed, black cumin, or cumin seed and need it for your recipe, never fear because there are several options when it comes to other spices that can be used as substitutes for cumin.

Check out our detailed list below for spices you can use for a cumin substitute in a pinch.

Ground Coriander

A close look at a bowl of ground coriander with coriander seeds.

Cumin and coriander are basically cousins in the world of botany and both bring the heat to a variety of dishes but they are still a little different from each other. Both cumin and coriander seed come from plants that are part of the parsley family, known as the Apiaceae family, and are used to season Indian foods as well as Middle Eastern and Latin.

The fresh leaves and stems from the coriander plant are known as cilantro which is also used quite a bit in a variety of dishes. The dried seeds of the coriander are used as either whole seeds or as ground coriander powder in dishes that call for it.

While coriander is a milder spice when it comes to the amount of heat it adds to a dish, both coriander and ground cumin give off an earthy, almost lemon flavor.

When you are using coriander as a substitute for cumin, you should add half the amount of cumin it calls for. In other words, if your recipe calls for 1 teaspoon cumin, you should only use one-half of a teaspoon of coriander. If your dish needs a little more heat, simply add a pinch of chili powder or cayenne pepper to your dish.

Fennel Seeds

A close look at a bunch of dried fennel seeds with a wooden scooper.

Fennel seeds are also part of the parsley family which makes them a great alternative to cumin seeds in your recipe. They have a taste similar to anise or licorice that cumin does not have, though, and fennel seeds will not provide the earthy, smokey flavor that cumin has and will give to your food but they will still work in a pinch. If you want to add some smokey flavor to your dish when using a fennel seed spice in place of cumin, put in a pinch of paprika.

Keep in mind that if you are substituting for ground cumin, you should use ground fennel seeds and if you are replacing ground cumin, you should use ground fennel. To ground the fennel seeds if you need to, simply use a food processor or coffee grinder to get the job done.

When using fennel seeds in place of cumin, you should use half the amount that is called for in your recipe for the cumin.

As another member of the parsley family, fennel seeds make a great alternative to cumin in a recipe. While they don’t mimic the flavor exactly, they will not taste out of place. Start with half the amount of cumin the recipe calls for and adjust to taste.

Garam Masala

This is a close look at the bowl of garam masala powder along with other spices.

Similar to curry powder, garam masala is a complex spice and herb blend that is used in Indian, South African, and Mauritian cuisines. Since it also actually contains some amount of cumin, it makes a great substitute for cumin and has some of the same earthy flavors to it. It is best to use this spice at the end of the your cooking process to provide the dish you are cooking with a citrusy, warm, and welcoming aroma. As in the case with many of the other spices on this list, only use half of the amount of garam masala as is called for in your recipe when it comes to cumin.

Paprika

A close look at a pile of red paprika powder.

Paprika does not pack the heat as cumin does but it will add the smokey flavor to your dish. It is known for its red color that is very vibrant so it will add a reddish hue to the food you add it to. You will want to use only half the amount of smoked paprika for the amount of cumin that is required for your recipe. You may also want to add in some cayenne pepper or black pepper to bring a little more heat to your dish in addition to the paprika.

Chili Powder

A saucer of chili powder surrounded by dried and fresh peppers.

Many times chili powder contains some amount of cumin in it so this spice makes a great cumin substitute. Chili powder will, however, boast some other flavors too. Some of the spices in this spice mix include oregano, ground cayenne pepper, onion powder, paprika, and garlic powder.

Chili powder works well as a substitute if you are making a dish, such as baked beans, but it may not compliment the other flavors properly in dishes that are part of other cuisines such as Indian curries. Due to the cayenne pepper and paprika in chili powder, you may also end up with a reddish-colored hue to the dish you are cooking. Like many other cumin substitutes, you should only use half the amount of chili powder for the amount of cumin called for in the recipe you are making for seasoning.

For example, if the recipe calls for one tsp of cumin, you should only use half of a teaspoon of chili powder. If you want to use a more pure chili powder, you can actually grind up an actual chili pepper which will really add some spicy flavor to your dish.

Caraway Seeds

This is a pile of caraway seeds on a table with a wooden scooper.

With their oblong shape and brownish color with yellow running through, cumin seeds and caraway seeds look almost identical to each other. Since they are cousins in the world of botany, this does make sense and, much like cumin and coriander, caraway seed is part of the parsley family. Both caraway seeds and ground caraway are very popular when it comes to recipes that are part of German cuisine.

Although caraway seeds are a little milder in flavor than cumin, they will still make a great substitute since they are so similar in many other ways. You should stick to swapping out cumin seeds for caraway seeds in your recipe and only use ground caraway if your recipe originally calls for ground cumin.

Taco Seasoning

This is a pile of taco seasoning powder on a white surface.

Taco seasoning is a spice blend that is similar to chili powder and contains many of the same spices, such as garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and yes, even cumin. Also present in its spice mix are black pepper, salt, and crushed red pepper flakes. As a cumin substitute, a taco seasoning mix will bring a complex flavoring all of its own in a bit more heat than a human does and different types of taco seasoning blends will contain different levels of salt.

If you are using taco seasoning in place of cumin, you should add it before using salt or any other condiments that are higher in sodium, such as Worcestershire sauce, to avoid over-salting the dish you are cooking. You can then add in salt, little by little, and adjust it to taste properly. You can also use fajita seasoning or chipotle powder in a pinch.

Curry Powder

This is a close look at a glass bowl full of curry powder.

When it comes to Curry powder, most blends contain cumin which makes it’s a great cumin substitute but like other spice blends on our list, it can also bring other flavors into the mix when making your dishes. Curry powders can vary in their composition in addition to cumin they boast about twenty other ground herbs and spices including turmeric, coriander, fenugreek seed, black pepper, cinnamon, ground ginger, and cardamom.

When these spices are blended together, they form a very amazing smelling blend that has a deep yellow tone and gives a warm flavor to your food. This means that curry powder works well as a cumin seed substitute in southeastern Asian dishes but it will give your dish a striking yellow color from the turmeric. 

FAQs About Cumin Substitute

What is panch phoron?

Panch phoron is a mix of spices that include a total of five of them: mouri which are fennel seeds, methi which as fenugreek seeds, shorshe which are mustard seeds, kaalo jeere which as nigella seeds and normally a Bengali spice, called radhuni. 

What is Marjoram?

Marjoram is a perennial herb and is part of the mint family. It is native to the Mediterranean area of the world as well as some parts of Asia and Africa.

What is anise seed?

Anise seeds are a spice and the plant they come from boasts leaves and stems that taste similar to fennel seeds, tarragon, or licorice.