Need a Substitute for Cumin?
Ground cumin represents a popular spice utilized in a wide variety of recipes. What happens when you just run out of the spice and need to prepare your favorite dish? We offer 5 simple cumin substitutes for you to consider.
Our top suggestions are listed below. We offer additional details for each cumin substitution further below in the article.
What is Cumin?
In 1600 America, settlers from Spain planted Cumin in the America’s—and this is one area of the world where it has reigned. The history of this spice is far more diverse than just the settling of the colonies in America. In fact, the history of this very aromatic and bold flavored spice dates all the way back to ancient Egypt, and it is a popular herbal ingredient in the Mediterranean today.
But remember, cumin has grown exponentially across the globe, and today, is now found in multiple countries around the world. It is quite common in many Indian dishes, but also quite prevalent in Cuban cuisine as well. In fact, this is an essential spice across the Middle East to the United States itself.
What is Ground Cumin Used For?
Cumin’s distinctive aroma and accentuating flavor is ideal for multiple ethnic dishes. For instance, within the Spanish culture, cumin is the main featured spice in the highly popular mojo sauce that is served atop many meat and rice dishes. Within the Middle East and China, this seasoning is utilized in marinades for the grilling of various cuts of beef, chicken and venison.
In the United States, cumin is almost always found in many Hispanic dishes such as: black bean soup, Enchiladas and Mexican bean pie. Cumin is perfect for dishes that are extremely distinctive to a culture, such as:
- Lamb sliders with cumin mayonnaise
- Eggplant dip
- Tomatillo dip
- Moroccan Vegetable Stew
- Chick Pea Salad
- And more
As is obvious, this specific and distinctive seasoning has no boundaries and is prevalent in dishes that cross cultures. However, for those who have allergies to cumin, or who prefer to go with another, more milder seasoning can do so. There are alternatives to this spice, without sacrificing flavor of a dish.
5 Cumin Alternatives without Sacrificing Flavor or Taste
Cumin can move from something as simple as a spice rub to a more intricate, necessary ingredient in a recipe. But, let’s back up for a moment. When you have a recipe calling for cumin, you might think you’re out of luck because it’s vacant from your pantry. You’ll be amazed at how you can substitute some herbal ingredients for cumin.
There are some who can’t handle the strong flavor of this spice, so sometimes, more mild spices are called for without sacrificing the original flavor. It’s possible, so let’s look at how right now. When you run out of cumin in your pantry and you have guests coming over, or your dish is definitely going to be amiss without it, what do you do?
Well, don’t get too frightened, because there are herbs which are just as loud and robust as cumin is. For instance:
Because chili seasoning has a natural, raw, fire flavor and smell, it matches with cumin very well. While it might not hold the ethnicity that cumin does, it still can be paired with other ethnic spices such as Garam Masala to blend and mimic cumin without any ill effects for those who have reactions to cumin in general.
While not as heavy in heat this spice can help to flavor a dish and bring some liveliness when you’re missing cumin. Turmeric is also ideal for those who can’t handle the traditional flavor of cumin and don’t do well with hot, spicy foods. Look at it as a milder, more gentle formula with a distinct flavor that can easily be blended with a hot chili powder to bring an intense flavor but a milder, more causal taste.
Curry powder is great to use as a substitute for cumin when you’re creating any kind of Indian dish. While the flavor might be more mild, there is still a distinct smell and aroma. Curry is used to make curried rice and curried meat dishes, very popular in the Middle East. Most won’t care if cumin is missing as long as curry can be used in its place. You just don’t want to use as much curry powder as you would cumin.
Coriander is yet another alternative for cumin. Both of these natural herbs are in the parsley family, but cumin is far more distinct than coriander. When you’re using coriander in place of cumin you only want to use half the amount called for, or you can destroy an ethnic dish.
Because cumin is earthy and citrus, using too much of an alternative seasoning can take away that ethnic balance and ruin the true authenticity of the dish, so there is a delicate balance to maintain.
A Punjabi style seasoning mix can be found at an ethnic store and it is simply a mix of a variety of natural seasonings that mimic cumin, without that strong, somewhat abrasive aroma some people don’t like.
A Punjabi is a mixture of cardamom, ginger, black pepper, nutmeg and some distinctive other natural herbal ingredients which lightly mimic cumin. You can mix a variety of natural herbs together to bring a balance in place of this cultural ingredient, and they work well. You might not achieve the same exact flavor of the dish, but it will still be tasty and provide good eating.
What Does Cumin Taste Like?
As has been mentioned, for some, cumin is just too strong of an herbal ingredient and the flavor is not preferred. However, as has been shown here, there are a variety of alternatives available that won’t take away flavor from a dish, but might make it more unique. You can enjoy chicken enchiladas without that blazing fire taste that normally comes along with them.
Also, you can enjoy a tamale pie without burning your taste buds off your tongue too. True, cumin alone doesn’t make these foods this hot, but throw in tamales and jalapenos and you have fire! Chili oil is another one that adds a huge amount of heat to many Asian dishes, and it is often paired with cumin to add to the heat.
There are always alternatives to many traditional spices, and cumin is one of those. You can go with multiple seasoning mixes to try and bring about that same flair without the heavy hot spice that comes with it. The goal is to hold on to the traditions of a dish while accentuating it in a better, more satisfying way for many people. When you learn about the creativity of the seasonings around the world you can really transform your dishes the way you prefer.
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