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Caraway is a spice that has a warming, fresh flavor with an anise undertone. The seeds are commonly used in Eastern and Central European countries as an ingredient in rye bread, sauerkraut, pickles, baked goods, and savory dishes. If you don’t have any in the pantry or want to try something a little different then keep reading. We’ve pulled together our favorite caraway substitutes so that you can finish any recipe without it.

What can I use in place of carraway?

Your best options for replacing caraway are fennel, dill, anise, or nigella seeds. Star anise is also a possibility if you’re in a pinch but use it in moderation. Cumin is okay for savory dishes that benefit from pungent, warming flavor; however, the dish will have a different taste. While these substitutes won’t perfectly mimic what you get from caraway, they do have similar flavor notes and won’t be out of place in most recipes.

1. Fennel seeds

We recommend fennel seeds as your best option for replacing caraway seed. They’re both members of the carrot family and share similar licorice notes. Fennel seeds are delicious sprinkled into Middle Eastern, Indian, and Italian dishes and they hold their own against other strong ingredients. They raise stews and curries to a new level and are useful in slow-cooked recipes – the spice is robust and can withstand prolonged heat.

Use fennel seeds in the same quantities as you would use caraway seeds.

2. Dill seeds

Dill seeds are another spice from the Apiaceae family that have a subtle anise flavor. This is a milder option thanks to a softer bitter and anise flavor. The seeds are excellent when infused into a liquid such as vinegar, oil, or a fermentation brine.

Dill seeds are ideal for using in cream-based soups, dressings, cabbage recipes, and for sprinkling on pork or potatoes. Like caraway seeds, they’re also perfect for incorporating into bread dough.

It’s fine to use dill in similar quantities as caraway. Keep in mind this ingredient is a little milder so you may want to add extra.

3. Anise seeds

If you enjoy the licorice flavor that caraway brings to food, then anise could be a suitable replacement. It is a tasty option for use in baked goods like bread, cookies, and cake.

This spice is pungent and will quickly overwhelm a dish. For this reason, we suggest using half the ratio of anise to caraway. Or better still, add small amounts and taste test before adding extra.

4. Nigella seeds

Nigella seeds are known by a range of names including black onion, kalonji, or charnushka. Toast these seeds first to enhance the licorice notes before using them to flavor curries, soups, and stews.

Like caraway, the seeds can be sprinkled into naan bread, rye bread, or a farm-style cob loaf that has a range of seeds in it. If you’re cooking meat, then Nigella seeds can be added to other spices like thyme and allspice to make a delicious meat rub.

5. Star anise

For anyone in a pinch that desperately needs a spice with licorice flavor, star anise may be suitable. You can use this ingredient as a caraway substitute in both savory and sweet dishes but tread tentatively with the amount used. The spice is well known for its powerful flavor.

6. Cumin seeds

Cumin seeds have a significantly different flavor profile from caraway seeds so only use this option if you’re in a pinch. The flavor of the dish will change, but the spice may still be suitable for some applications. It has a warm earthy taste ideal for Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine. Cumin pairs well with other intense spices but lacks the anise flavor that you get from caraway.

As a cooking alternative, you could use cumin in savory recipes like stews and soups. It isn’t recommended for adding to bread and other baked goods. The intense savory flavor and pungency will overwhelm your food creating an unpleasant taste.

If you choose to use this spice, we suggest using ground cumin powder rather than cumin seeds. Add very small amounts before taste testing and adding more if required. You can check out our complete comparison of cumin and caraway here.

Fast facts about carraway

  • The seeds are a powerful spice that hold their own well against other strong flavors.
  • Although whole spices are commonly ground before using, it is okay to toss whole caraway seeds into food as they are small.
  • Caraway is popular in the European, African, and Asian cookery, useful for sweet and savory dishes.
  • European countries such as Italy and Poland commonly use the spice in their sausages for a lighter, fresher flavor.

Summing up

Caraway seeds are a wonderful way to build fresh, warming flavor to food with subtle licorice notes. Heavy meat like sausages and stews get some relief from this spice. Freshly baked bread has an unbeatable aroma with caraway added.

If you don’t have any then try fennel, dill, anise, or nigella seeds as your best options. Star anise or cumin are okay backups but be prepared for a different tasting dish.

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