Cumin Vs. Caraway – What’s The Difference?

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Cumin

Cumin seeds are a spice that are...

People often confuse cumin and caraway seeds when they’re cooking. It’s not surprising as they look quite similar. If you’re unfamiliar with how they compare, then keep reading. We are about to provide a complete comparison of cumin and caraway spice so that you will know how to use them in any recipe.

What’s the difference between caraway and cumin seeds?

Cumin is an earthy, bitter, warming spice that is popular in flavor-packed savory dishes. It plays a starring role in Indian, Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine and pairs well with other intense ingredients. Cumin can be used as a whole spice or ground. Caraway has a distinctive licorice taste with properties similar to anise or fennel seed. It is a popular spice for use in cheese, sauerkraut, and bread; German recipes often benefit from a sprinkle of these seeds. Caraway is more commonly added to food as a whole seed rather than as a powder.

Important features that set cumin and caraway apart

Appearance

Cumin seeds are a light brown shade and have nine thin ridges running lengthwise. They are around 6mm long with an oblong shape and a rough surface. Caraway seeds are a dark brown color and are crescent-shaped with five thin ridges. Their length is shorter than cumin, averaging 2mm. Source.

Plant origin

Although related, each spice is harvested from different plants. Cumin seeds come from the Cuminum cyminum and are a member of the parsley family. The spice is a relative of the caraway and fennel plants. Caraway seeds are produced by the Carum Carvi plant, which is a member of the Apiaceae family.

While cumin originated in India and East Mediterranean, caraway is native to Europe and western Asia.

Culinary uses

Cumin has a stronger, hotter taste than caraway and is excellent when added to Indian curries like kormas. Use it as an essential part of the garam masala spice blend. It’s also delicious used in chili con carne, casseroles, sauces, sausages, and burgers.

Caraway is well suited to European cuisine and is a popular addition to pumpernickel and other rye breads. It also pairs well with cabbage, poultry, cheese, sausages, sauerkraut, and potatoes.

Nutrition and health benefits

Cumin and caraway are low in saturated fat, sodium, calories, and sugar. Cumin has 2.7g carbs and 1.1g of protein per tablespoon. Caraway has 3.3g carbs and 1.3g protein per tablespoon.

Can you use caraway and cumin interchangeably?

Caraway and cumin should not be used interchangeably as they have distinct flavor profiles, used for different purposes in the kitchen. Use caraway to give food a fresh, anise flavor while cumin adds an intensely musky and earthy flavor to dishes. Cumin will easily overwhelm a dish that calls for caraway.

Check out our guide if you need a substitute for caraway.

Where to buy

Both spices are available at many large, well-stocked supermarkets in the spice aisle. However, you’ll discover that cumin is easier to find than caraway as it is a much more popular spice in cooking.

If you can’t locate either of these whole spices in mainstream stores, your next best option is to pay a visit to a specialty spice store or an Indian grocer. Look for popular retailers with plenty of customers coming through the store. Smaller stores with a low stock turnover may have their spices sitting on a shelf for many months. You want to avoid this as the spices may have lost much of their flavor.

A quick search online will reveal a range of sellers who offer these spices.

Interesting reading:
What is the difference between cumin and turmeric?
Garlic powder vs. garlic salt – what’s the difference?

Fast facts

  • “Jeera” is an Indian word that is used for cumin and caraway. As you can imagine, this can cause some confusion when following some of their recipes.
  • India and China are the main producers of cumin, harvesting around 70% of the world’s supply. These two countries also consume 90% of that production. Source.
  • Over the past 50 years, cumin has seen a 375% increase in per capita availability, while caraway has seen a 50% decrease. Source
  • Kümmel, or kimmel, is a liqueur that is made using cumin, fennel, and caraway seeds.
  • Black cumin (Nigella sativa) seeds are a variety of cumin that are sweeter than cumin with pungent notes similar to caraway. You can identify these seeds as they are almost black and are thinner and smaller than regular cumin.

Summing up

Although cumin and caraway have a similar appearance and are related, they are quite different spices. Use them interchangeably at your own peril as they each have unique flavor profiles. If you’re missing caraway, you’re probably better to leave it out than replace it with cumin (and vice versa).

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