Cumin

Dried cumin seeds in a bowl

Cumin seeds are a spice that are harvested from the Cumin cyminum, or cumin plant. The small pink or white flowers are harvested when the plant is around 4 months old. Once dried, the seeds have a boat-shaped appearance, and they turn a light brown shade. Cumin can also be sold as a ground powder, but it loses its potency much quicker that the whole seeds.

The cumin seed is considered to have originated from the Middle East, with remains of the spice found in Egyptian pyramids, dating back to 5000BC. Today, it is a popular spice in cooking, but it is also used in veterinary medicines, perfumes, and has some useful health benefits such as aiding indigestion. The major harvesters of cumin are Iran, Turkey, Morocco, and India.

Flavor

Cumin has a unique pungent flavor that’s musky, earthy, and woody. It is slightly bitter with a fresh, pine undertone. Its aroma is earthy, pungent, and warming. The seeds release additional nutty flavor when bruised then fried without oil.

The cumin seed complements sweet spices like nutmeg and cinnamon and its bitterness will balance the citrus notes found in spices like cilantro.

Pairs with

Proteins

  • chicken
  • fish
  • beef
  • pork

Vegetables

  • green beans
  • carrots
  • eggplant
  • tomatoes

Spices

  • garlic
  • turmeric
  • ginger
  • oregano

Spice blends: Baharat, dukkah, za’atar, panch phoron, chili powder, ras el hanout, chermoula, advieh, barbecue rubs.

Culinary uses

Cumin is a versatile spice in the kitchen, but it can quickly overwhelm a dish. Use in moderation if you don’t want it to dominate the other ingredients. The spice is commonly used in Indian cuisine and is a key ingredient in many curries, rice, pickles, chutneys, and bread.

Middle Eastern food also incorporates the seeds into many recipes. Moroccan spice blends like harissa and chermoula use cumin seeds for adding a flavor punch to meat rubs. Lamb is taken to a new level with this spice.

If you enjoy burritos, tacos, and other Mexican meat dishes, then the chili spice blend that typically flavors these dishes includes cumin, along with paprika, salt, and chili.

The toasted, crushed seeds can be sprinkled over root vegetables, mixed into soups, and used to flavor stews. They also make a flavorsome dip when combined with yogurt and lemon juice.

How much? Use 2 tsp of seeds or powder for every pound of meat or vegetables. Reduce the quantity to 1 ½ tsp when adding to sweet recipes; any more will overpower a cake, pudding, or dessert.

Substitutes

To replace cumin in a recipe, try ground cilantro, caraway seeds, chili powder, garam masala, or a taco seasoning mix. Although these alternatives won’t perfectly mimic the flavor, they won’t taste unpleasant in most savory dishes. We suggest using a half quantities of the substitute and then taste testing before adding more.

Storage

Store whole cumin seeds for up to 3 years in an airtight jar away from heat, light and moisture. Ground cumin will remain fresh for up to one year before losing its flavor and aroma.

Quick Facts

NameDescription
FamilyApiaceae
Flavor compoundMyrcene, pinene, terpinene, cuminaldehyde, cymene
Botanical nameCuminum cyminum
Parts usedSeeds
Other namesJeera, comino, white cumin, green cumin, black cumin

Find a Spice

Cumin

Whole cilantro seeds

Cilantro Seed

Cloves in a bowl

Cloves

A bowl of cinnamon bark.

Cinnamon

Dried chili peppers in a bowl

Chili

Green cardamom seeds in a bowl

Cardamom

Popular Spices

Cardamom

Cardamom is a greed pod filled with...

Cloves

Cloves are a spice that is harvested...

Cilantro Seed

Cilantro is a spice that is harvested...