Cumin is a popular spice native to the Middle East and commonly used in Mexican, Indian, African and Middle Eastern dishes. The spice has a distinct, pungent aroma and has an earthy, spicy taste. It can be used in recipes as whole seeds or crushed into a fine reddish brown powder. Whole cumin seeds are a vital ingredient in curry. When the spice is ground up, it can also be used in BBQ sauce, chili, and baked beans.

If you find yourself in a pinch and lacking cumin, there are several options for substitutions:

  • Caraway seeds (substitute 1/2 of what the recipe calls for)
  • Chili powder
  • Ground coriander (substitute 1/2 of what the recipe calls for)
  • Garam masala
  • Curry powder
  • Taco seasoning

For each of the spices, you can substitute them equally or begin by adding a lesser amount and slowly add more to reach your desired flavor.

ground cumin in a red bowl

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1. Cumin Substitute: Caraway Seeds

Like cumin, caraway seeds belong to the parsley family and have a strong aroma. They're similar in appearance and flavor as well, though cumin's flavor is stronger and spicer. Caraway seeds are typically used to give flavor to European pastries and bread, but can be used as a cumin substitute when needed -- especially if you add anise seeds with them.

Will It Change The Final Dish?

Caraway seeds are regarded as one of the best cumin substitutes because they have a similar flavor and appearance to cumin. Therefore, adding this cumin substitute will not change your final dish.

How Much To Add

Begin by adding half as much caraway seeds that the recipe calls for -- so if you're supposed to use one teaspoon of cumin, begin with half a teaspoon of caraway seeds and work your way up slowly until you achieve the desired flavor.

caraway seeds in a spoon

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2. Cumin Substitute: Chili Powder

Chili powder is a spice mix that contains cumin, so it works well in some recipes as a cumin substitute. While you might want to steer clear from using it with curries, you can definitely add chili powder in lieu of cumin when cooking chili or baked beans.

Will It Change The Final Dish?

Be thoughtful when using this powder as a substitute -- it can easily make a dish too spicy and alter its color.

How Much To Add:

Start by adding half or even a third of how much cumin is supposed to be used, then slowly add more until you reach your desired flavor. For example, if a recipe calls for one teaspoon of cumin, add ? or ½ teaspoon chili powder and work your way up if need be.

chili powder surrounded by peppers

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3. Cumin Substitute: Ground Coriander

Using ground coriander, another member of the parsley family, is possible if you want a dish that is more mild.

Will It Change The Final Dish?

While ground coriander has the earthy, lemon flavor of cumin, it is absent of cumin's natural heat. Therefore, your dish won't have the desired spicy kick that it would have with cumin.

How Much To Add:

Again, begin with using half as much ground coriander that the recipe calls for and add more until you find the flavor you want.

ground and whole coriander

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4. Cumin Substitute: Garam Masala

This Indian spice contains a large amount of cumin along with ingredients including black pepper, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. It's a striking flavor that is spicy and citrusy, yet sweet and earthy at the same time.

Will It Change The Final Dish?

Though this isn't the best substitute to use, it won't change the color of the dish and the flavor will be relatively similar.

How Much To Add:

Because garam masala has a similar flavor and appearance to cumin, you can substitute it on a 1:1 ratio.

white bowl of garam masala

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5. Cumin Substitute: Curry Powder

Different curry powders contain different ingredients, but cumin is always present. Therefore, it's an easy cumin substitute to use, as it contains the original required ingredient.

Will It Change The Final Dish?

If you choose to substitute cumin with curry powder, know that the color might dramatically change, but the dish's flavor should not go through a lot of change.

How Much To Add:

You can exchange curry powder for cumin at a 1:1 ratio.

curry powder in a mason jar

Olha Afanasieva/Shutterstock

6. Cumin Substitute: Taco Seasoning Mix

Taco seasoning is similar to chili powder in that it includes cumin and several other consistent ingredients including chili powder, garlic powder and onion powder.

Will It Change The Final Dish?

Although taco seasoning mix contains cumin, using this cumin substitute will alter the taste of your dish and elevate a salty flavor you wouldn't experience with using cumin.

How Much To Add:

This cumin substitute can be exchanged at a 1:1 ratio.

taco seasoning in a bowl

Charlotte Lake/Shutterstock

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