Cumin is a versatile spice used in many dishes from around the globe. Not only is it a primary ingredient in curry powder, it can be used to season Mexican, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and other types of cuisines. Cumin is sold in seed form and already ground. Each type should be added to dishes in certain ways to get the best use out of the spice.
Pricing and Availability
Cumin is readily available in powder and whole seed form at many markets. They should be stored the same way: in airtight containers for up to six months for optimum freshness and flavor. There is little variation in price between the spice in whole or powder form.
Ground cumin is already in powder form, you can use it on rubs to season vegetables or meats for use in many dishes. The flavor is immediately detectable on the food, no matter how quickly it is cooked. Whole cumin seeds work best when added to a broth where the seeds have the chance to heat up and the oils to disperse the flavor into the dish. Cumin seed can be used for marinades, such as with Worcestershire sauce, garlic and oil to season food for extended periods of time before cooking.
If you have a recipe that calls for ground cumin, but you only have whole seed cumin, consider conversions for your recipe. If you have a mortar and pestle or a powerful food processor, you should be able to grind the cumin seed into powder on your own. However, the results can be a little uneven and this adds to the time it will take to prepare your meal. Instead, if the recipe calls for 2 tbsp. of ground cumin you will need to use 2 1/2 tbsp. of whole cumin seed to the dish.
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The distinctive aroma to cumin is partially what gives it its flavor. Optimum flavor can only be reached if the oils inside the seed are heated or ground. When using whole cumin seed, toast the seeds in advance to get the best flavor possible. To toast the seeds, preheat an oven to approximately 200 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle an even layer of whole seeds over the pan. Bake until lightly golden in color, shaking the pan periodically for even cooking.
Liza Hollis has been writing for print and online publications since 2003. Her work has appeared on various digital properties, including USAToday.com. Hollis earned a degree in English Literature from the University of Florida.