Cumin is a nutty, lemony spice widely used in many cuisines and dishes, from Indian curries to chili to black bean soup.
Fortunately, if you find yourself halfway through making your favorite dish and realize you’re out of this delectable spice, there are suitable replacements.
Here are eight suitable substitutes for cumin.
1. Ground coriander
Cumin and coriander grow from a plant in the parsley, or Apiaceae, family. Both are used to season dishes in Latin, Middle Eastern, and Indian cuisines.
Fresh coriander stems and leaves are known as cilantro; their dried seeds are used whole or ground into a powder for cooking.
Both coriander and cumin give dishes a lemony, earthy flavor, though coriander is milder in flavor.
Add half the coriander to your dish to substitute coriander for cumin. If you want to add heat, use a dash of chili powder or cayenne.
Summary: Because coriander and cumin are botanical cousins, coriander is a great substitute. Both deliver earthy and lemony notes to a dish.
2. Caraway seeds
If you lay cumin and caraway seeds side by side, you’ll notice they resemble each other in their oblong shape and mustardy-brown color.
Botanically, this makes sense, as they are cousins. Like cumin and coriander, caraway belongs to the parsley family.
Caraway is popular in German cuisine, either as seeds or ground. While a bit milder than cumin, caraway still makes an excellent substitute.
An excellent general rule is that caraway seeds should substitute for cumin seeds, while ground caraway should replace the ground version.
Replace cumin with half the caraway amount, and then add more to taste.
Summary: Caraway is another parsley family member that tastes similar to cumin, meaning it’s an appropriate substitute. Start by replacing cumin with half the amount of caraway, and then gradually add more to taste.
3. Chili powder
Another suitable substitute is chili powder, as some versions have cumin as one of the primary ingredients.
Remember that chili powder will provide additional flavors, as the mix may contain paprika, garlic powder, oregano, ground cayenne, and onion powder.
This substitute works well if you’re making a dish like pinto beans but may not complement flavors found in some other dishes, such as Indian curries.
Because chili powder contains paprika and cayenne, it may also impart a more reddish hue to your dish.
As with the other substitutes, use half the amount of cumin called for in the recipe. If the recipe calls for 1 tbsp. (14 grams) of ground cumin, use 1/2 tbsp. (7 grams) of chili powder.
Summary: Chili powder is a spice blend that sometimes includes cumin, among other spices. To substitute, use half the amount of cumin in the recipe. Consider the additional flavors chili powder will add, as well as its red hue.
4. Taco seasoning
This spice blend has all the makings of chili powder, including garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and cumin. Additionally, taco seasoning contains salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes.
Expect this substitute to bring a more complex set of flavors than cumin does on its own and a bit more heat.
Also, remember that taco seasoning blends contain varying amounts of salt.
For this reason, add taco seasoning to your recipe before salt or higher-sodium condiments like store-bought Worcestershire and teriyaki sauces. This helps you avoid oversalting your dish. Then, adjust to taste.
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Summary: Taco seasoning is another spice mixture that can include cumin. It also contains salt, so use it before you add salt or higher-sodium condiments to a dish.
5. Curry powder
Curry powder blends commonly contain cumin, so that they can be a great substitute. Like other spice blends mentioned above, curry powder also brings different flavors.
Curry powders vary in composition. In addition to cumin, they typically include about 20 ground herbs and spices such as ground ginger, cardamom, turmeric, coriander, fenugreek, black pepper, and cinnamon.
Combined, these spices yield a warm, aromatic blend with a deep yellow tone.
Curry is an ideal substitute for some Indonesian- and Malaysian-style foods. Keep in mind that it will give your dish a striking yellow color due to the turmeric.
Summary: Curry powder largely relies on cumin as a base ingredient, though it also includes many other warm and aromatic spices. It’s a good substitute but will make your dish more yellow.
6. Garam masala
Like curry powder, garam masala is a complex spice and herb blend often used in India, Mauritius, and South African cuisines. Because it contains cumin, it works well as a substitute.
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Garam masala is typically added at the end of cooking and gives a dish a warm, citrusy, and inviting aroma.
As with many other spices, you can substitute with garam masala by starting with half the amount of cumin called for in the recipe and adjusting to taste. Add garam masala later in the cooking process for the most flavor.
Summary: Garam masala is a traditional Indian spice blend with warm, citrusy notes. It will best substitute cumin in Indian, Mauritian, and South African dishes.
Paprika, a mainstay in Hungarian dishes, can range in flavor from mild to spicy and hot.
Due to its vibrant red color, paprika will also add a reddish tone to your dish.
To substitute, begin using half the amount of cumin in the recipe. Taste as you go because a little goes a long way.
Summary: Similarly to cumin, paprika brings smokiness to a dish, but be aware that it will also give your dish a reddish color.
8. Fennel seeds
As another parsley family member, fennel seeds are also an excellent alternative to cumin.
Unlike cumin, fennel seeds have an anise-like licorice flavor. They will not deliver the same smokiness and earthiness as cumin but won’t taste out of place when you’re in a pinch.
Use ground fennel to substitute for ground cumin and fennel seeds to substitute for cumin seeds. Remember that you can always pulverize fennel seeds in a coffee grinder or food processor for a few seconds to make ground fennel.
As with the other spice alternatives discussed here, start slow, with about half the cumin the recipe calls for. Then, fold in the spice a pinch at a time to taste.
If you miss the smoky flavor, consider adding a pinch of coriander to your dish.
Summary: As another parsley family member, fennel seeds make a great alternative to cumin in a recipe. While they don’t mimic the flavor, they will not taste out of place. Start with half the cumin the recipe calls for and adjust to taste.
The bottom line
Cumin is an earthy, aromatic spice that brings citrusy notes to a dish.
If you’re in a pinch, there are many great alternatives you might already have in your pantry.
Caraway seeds and ground coriander most closely mimic cumin’s flavor, while curry and chili powders contain cumin.
When you’re out of cumin, rest assured that your dish will still taste fantastic through these clever substitutes.