Wondering what you can substitute for cumin? Don’t worry… here are 10 ingredients that can make a great cumin substitute.
What is cumin?
A fragrant spice that comes from a plant known as Cuminum cyminum, cumin is a member of the parsley family. Known for its earthy flavor and distinctive aroma, it’s a key ingredient in many cuisines around the world, most notably in Indian dishes. Try finding a curry without cumin!
It’s also hugely popular in Latin American cuisine… think tacos, chili and any other kind of Mexican street food. In the states, Tex-Mex and Southwestern dishes often make use of the warm, earthy flavor of cumin.
Aside from its earthy flavor, cumin is slightly smoky, sweet and a little bitter, with a pleasant nuttiness that makes it great when combined with other spices. It sits well alongside the likes of cinnamon, coriander, caraway seeds and chili powder, which makes it a great addition to spice blends like garam masala and curry powder.
Where does cumin come from?
Cumin has been used in cooking for thousands of years. Excavations in Syria and ancient Egypt have found evidence that this sumptuous spice was used as a cooking ingredient.
Not only that, it was also a key element in the preservation of mummies – a spice that works wonders, even in the afterlife!
The seed itself is yellowy brown in colour and similar in appearance to caraway seeds. A huge part of ancient Greek and Roman cuisine, cumin has also been a fundamental ingredient in Indian cooking for thousands of years.
Cumin was introduced to the Americas by Spanish and Portuguese colonisers. It has gone on to become a fundamental element of Latin American cuisine, particularly Mexican.
Today, the cumin plant is grown in the Indian subcontinent, North Africa, Mexico, Chile and China.
What is the difference between cumin and cumin seeds?
Like most spices, cumin comes in two different forms, each of which can add a different intensity of flavor to dishes.
In Indian cuisine, the seeds are often fried in oil at the beginning of the cooking process. This infuses the oil and flavors every ingredient that is then cooked afterwards. This way of using whole cumin ensures that the whole dish is flavored.
Cumin seeds can also be lightly roasted in a dry pan, which releases their flavors. When cooked in with other ingredients, the cumin stands out as a toasted, nutty spice. But the roasted cumin can also be ground, before being mixed in with other ingredients.
If you grind your own cumin freshly from the seed form, the flavor will be intense and deep. This is the standard in traditional Indian cooking and brings a whole new level of nuance and complexity.
You can also buy ready ground cumin powder. Whereas whole cumin needs time to be cooked into the dish for the flavors to be released, cumin powder is a little less intense and can be added to dishes at any time of the cooking process.
How do you grind cumin seeds?
There are few cooking experiences as satisfying as cooking an authentic Indian or Mexican recipe and using your own freshly ground spices. Grinding cumin seeds is easy and adds a real rustic punch to your dish.
You’ll need a good quality mortar and pestle to grind cumin seeds. First, lightly toast the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan. This should take a minute or two.
When they’re lightly browned, tip them into the mortar. Then, roll the pestle around the mortar until the cumin is ground. Don’t worry about getting every seed – a few whole pieces of cumin will just add to the rustic spiciness.
You could even let this ingenious gizmo do all the spice grinding work for you!
What are the health benefits of cumin?
Regarded as a superfood, cumin has been used as a health supplement since ancient times. It’s know for its ability to improve blood sugar control, its iron content and is often used as a digestive aid, particularly in India, where seeds are chewed after a meal.
Cumin is also linked with improved cholesterol, weight loss and the prevention of diabetes, while it can also improve the body’s ability to process antioxidants.
How do you store cumin?
Cumin seeds can be kept in a pantry or cupboard for up to a year. They can also be frozen and kept for longer – frozen cumin keeps its flavor for a long time.
Ground cumin should be stored in a cool dry place and used within 6 months.
Excellent recipes for cumin
Here are just a few irresistible recipes that make use of this incredible spice:
- Cumin roast carrots –spice up your carrots with this easy roast recipe
- Bombay chutney – if you find yourself with lots of leftover veg, an Indian chutney is the perfect solution
- Beef madras – a hearty curry with big flavors, this traditional Indian dish will transform your house into an aromatic wonderland, as its fragrances fill the air
- Mung bean curry – a beautiful bean based curry, this 100% vegan recipe is packed full of nutrients
- Beetroot falafel – another vegan recipe, this Middle Eastern dish looks stunning and tastes even better
- Chicken chasni – invented in Glasgow, this spicy chicken curry is utterly divine