If you talk about a universal spice, cumin is the name that would come out of the mouths of spice gurus. You can find it in North American, Middle Eastern, Latin American, Mediterranean and Asian dishes. Indeed, those who love international cuisine—and who doesn’t—probably have their taste buds conditioned to the earthy, nutty and a touch of a citrus flavor of cumin. But not all food lovers are fond of cumin primarily because of its bitter taste.
If you have cooked on family gatherings, you know how hard it is to cook with cumin only to find your loved ones passing on your dishes because of the bitter taste. But don’t fret, there are a lot of cumin substitute that will give you its distinct flavor sans the bitter taste.
Last update on 2017-10-17 PST - Details
Passable Cumin Substitute
Let me tell you right from the get-go that there is no better substitute for cumin except cumin itself and ruling cumin out in a recipe that requires it is just a plain no-no. It adds to your spice guru badge if you can find spices that will round out the flavors of cumin and regain what you’ve lost without it. Here are some similar but weaker spices with flavor and aroma that you can use to replace cumin in most recipes.
What in the world is Chipotle? This is not a very familiar spice because it just made rounds in the grocery stores. But if you love anything Mexican, there is a good chance that you have this spice in your kitchen.
Chipotle seasoning has some cumin in it and it just stands to reason that you can use it as its alternative. But since this is not a familiar spice, you have to use your better judgment when using it as a substitute because you can’t find a hard and fast formula for it. The idea is to add this in little portions and taste the dish as you go and know when to stop.
2. Anise seed
I know a lot of chefs will disagree in using anise seeds to replace cumin because the former is known for its licorice-like flavor as opposed to the nutty-earthy flavor of the latter. But if you try using anise along with caraway seeds, you will achieve that cumin-like flavor minus the bitter taste. Again, the idea is to use it in moderation because it will definitely overpower the flavor of the dish.
For the simple reason that both seeds belong to the parsley family, the caraway seeds are good substitute for cumin seeds. Aside from its more or less the same appearance, both seeds have the same flavor. If you find yourself hard pressed to find cumin in your pantry, the next thing that you should look for is the caraway.
It has been used in many bread and pastries in place of cumin but you have to bear in mind that it has a stronger flavor. The best thing to do is to use half the amount of cumin when using caraways in a recipe that requires the former.
4. Smoked Paprika
Again this is another spice that other spice gurus would disagree as a cumin substitute. And I know where they are coming from, but if you give smoked paprika a second chance, you will find that it has the same smoky flavor as cumin.
The only thing that you will miss in this substitute is the heat. But then again, with a hint of wizardry, you can mix one part smoked paprika with two parts chili powder to achieve the flavor of one part cumin.
Also belonging to the parsley family which means that both have the same flavor profile, coriander is the ultimate cumin substitute in Mediterranean and Indian dishes. To substitute, it is recommended that you use 1 teaspoon coriander for every ¾ cumin that your recipe requires.
6. Chilli powder
The chili powder packages that you can find in any local grocery stores or even online contains a lot of other spices including cumin. This is the perfect cumin substitute if you are whipping up hot dishes minus the bitter taste of cumin.
Bear in mind however that the amount of cumin in chili powder can vary from package to package so adjust the amount considering what you want to achieve. Avoid using pure chili powder because this doesn’t have any cumin at all.
7. Garam Marsala
The Gram Marsala mix contains cumin so this is also a good substitute. But you have to remember also that this mixture contains other herbs and spices that don’t taste like cumin so you have to exercise care when using this as a substitute.
If you’re one of those few who loves the bitter taste of cumin but can’t find it in the pantry, your best option is turmeric. There are striking similarities between the two and that is they are both high in iron content and flavor. You have to be careful though, the yellow color of turmeric can greatly alter the color of your dish.
9. Curry Powder
Curry powder is a combination of a plethora of spices such as mustard, cinnamon, fenugreek, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, coriander and wait for it, —cumin.
This spice combination will give you a spicy, sweet and earthy flavor in addition to the yellow discoloration because of the presence of turmeric in the mix. All these should be taken into consideration when you use it as a substitute for cumin.
10. Taco Seasoning Mix
The taco seasoning mix contains almost all of the cumin substitute that we listed here including cumin itself. It has pepper, chili powder, paprika, oregano, red pepper flakes, and onion powder and that’s why it made it on our list. Due to its salt content, you have to reduce the amount of salt that you put in your recipe.
11. Fennel Seeds
Although a lot sweeter than cumin seeds, this is your best one to one substitute for cumin in any recipe. It is good for replacing cumin in fish dishes, Italian cuisines and Italian meatballs and sausages. Since it’s a one to one substitute, you can use the same amount of cumin that is provided in your recipe.
12. Black Cumin
Since it’s sweeter than all the varieties of cumin, the black cumin is the best alternative to cumin in any dish. You will get a more floral flavor without the bitter taste of straight up cumin if you use this variety. You can find a lot of black cumin in Indian food stores and online.
You might think it’s absurd to replace a spice famous in the Mediterranean, Indian and Mexican cuisine with something from the Italian world of food. But the thing that makes oregano work as a cumin substitute is when you mix it with coriander. If you have a recipe that requires ½ teaspoon of cumin, you can replace it with ½ teaspoon oregano and ½ teaspoon coriander.
It takes some black art of a real spice guru to find the real substitute for cumin. Due to the distinct flavor and taste of the spices mentioned above, you can’t really expect to find the exact same substitute for cumin. But if you follow the replacement method provided above, you can cook recipes that would taste like they have cumin in it.
So, which of these 13 spices do you find suitable for your next cumin-based recipe? If you’ve found the best substitute for cumin, please share your experience by dropping a comment below.