Cumin adds spiciness and an earthy flavor to chili. Put in too much, however, and you may end up with a dish that's bitter and difficult to eat. It's best used sparingly -- a little goes a long way and won't mask your chili's other flavors. If you've already added more than enough, there are several ways to tame cumin's assertive flavor.
Add More Ingredients
If you have more of the ingredients on hand you used in the chili, add each in proportions similar to those added in the original recipe, with the exception of cumin. For example, if your pot of chili was made with canned tomatoes, ground beef, tomato paste, beans, vegetables like onions and bell peppers and seasonings such as oregano and salt, try adding 1/4 or 1/2 of the amount originally called for to dilute the cumin. If you don't have enough of all the ingredients, try adding just one of the main components, such as more canned tomatoes, beef or beans.
Counteract the Flavor with Sugar
For cumin-laced chili that's far spicier than you prefer, try taming the heat by stirring in a sweetener like sugar or honey. Start with 1/2 teaspoon. If the cumin is still too overpowering, keep adding sweetener 1/2 teaspoon at a time, being sure to stir the chili well after each addition to distribute the ingredients evenly and to allow the sweetener ample time to dissolve. Don't add too much or you'll end up with overly sweet chili.
Stir in an Acid
If you've chosen to use a sweetener like sugar to tamp down the cumin flavor in your chili, you may need to balance the sweetness with an acid. Freshly squeezed lemon or lime juice is a good choice for chili, as is plain white vinegar. Not only can a small amount of acid neutralize your sweetener, it can help decrease cumin's spiciness. Stir in only a teaspoon or two, taste and continue to add more, if needed. If you go overboard and the chili becomes too sour, use additional sweetener to reign it in.
Serve with Flavor-Reducing Toppings
Dairy products like sour cream or plain yogurt stirred into a chili too heavy in cumin can help spread out the spice's harsh flavor and can also soothe the burn from excessive heat. Serve it in a generous dollop atop each bowl of chili or on the side along with plenty of other toppings that can help detract from the cumin flavor, such as crushed tortilla chips, grated cheese, shredded lettuce, chopped fresh tomatoes and cubed avocados. When no such toppings are available, try serving the chili with a glass of milk.
Michelle Kerns writes for a variety of print and online publications and specializes in literature and science topics. She has served as a book columnist since 2008 and is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Kerns studied English literature and neurology at UC Davis.