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

For the rest 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


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.

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 are regarded as one of the best cumin substitutes.

caraway seeds in a spoon

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

chili powder surrounded by peppers

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Substitute Ground Coriander

Using ground coriander, another member of the parsley family, is possible, but the spice will alter the flavor of your 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. 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


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. 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.

white bowl of garam masala


Substitute Curry Powder

Different curry powders contain different ingredients, but cumin is always present. 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.

curry powder in a mason jar

Olha Afanasieva/Shutterstock

Substitute Taco Seasoning Mix

Taco seasoning is similar to chili powder with its inclusion of cumin and several other consistent ingredients including chili powder, garlic powder and onion powder. However, using taco seasoning will alter the taste of your dish and elevate a salty flavor you wouldn't experience with using cumin.

taco seasoning in a bowl

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