5 Best Ground Cumin Substitutes

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Ground cumin has an earthy flavor that brings depth to a dish. But what do you do when you are in the middle of cooking and suddenly realize that you are out of stock? Knowing the best ground cumin substitutes can save you time and ensure that your dish still maintains its flavors.

Ground Cumin Substitutes

There is a good chance that a number of ground cumin substitutes are already in your spice rack. Cumin is a popular spice in Mexican, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and Asian cuisines. It comes in three colors, black, white, and amber, and is sold both ground and in whole seed form. Cumin is actually a member of the parsley family and has a warm, slightly bitter flavor. It also adds heat to dishes.

Ground cumin is a very distinctive spice and cannot be substituted easily. All the different colors of cumin can substitute for each other, of course, but if you find yourself with no cumin at all in the cupboard, common spices such as caraway seeds, chili powder, coriander, anise, and paprika can help save your recipe.

Ground cumin in a spoon and bowl placed on a burlap

How to replicate the earthy goodness of cumin powder? Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Caraway Seeds

Cumin is hotter than caraway, but both plants belong to the parsley family and therefore have similar flavor profiles. Ground caraway is widely available, although most people are only familiar with the whole seeds. If only the whole seeds are available, grind them in a coffee or spice grinder to replace cumin.

Chili Powder

Chili powder is a common spice blend that actually contains cumin, along with paprika, cayenne, garlic, onion, and oregano. Most dishes that call for cumin can accommodate these other flavors as well. Taste as you use it though, to make sure the other flavors aren’t overwhelming the dish.

A wooden bowl and spoon filled with coriander seeds and powder with fresh coriander leaves on a wooden table

Coriander seed is often recommended for stomach related ailments. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Coriander

Coriander is found all over the world, although it’s familiar to Western cooks under another name: cilantro. Coriander can replace the earthy flavor since it is another member of the parsley family, but it has no heat. Try mixing coriander and chili powder together to replace cumin in a recipe.

Anise

Anise should be used as a last resort. It has a very strong licorice flavor and no heat. However, it is another parsley relative and has the same herbal earthiness. In small amounts, it can substitute for coriander in complex dishes. Be very careful though, as anise is quite powerful and can entirely throw a flavor profile off with even slightly too much.

Paprika

If possible, try to use chipotle paprika or hot paprika when substituting for cumin. Avoid using sweet paprika. Paprika will bring warmth and heat to your dish. It also replaces the smokiness of cumin, which the other substitutes don’t provide. However, it is much more intense a flavor than cumin, so start by using half the called-for amount and go from there.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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