Ground cumin is found in many chili recipes in North America and is popular in Latin American, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Indian dishes. Cumin is the fruit of a plant in the parsley family and is available ground or in seed form. Ground cumin has a distinct bitter flavor and warm aroma caused by its high oil content. If you are not one for spicy foods or the strength of cumin’s distinctive taste, there are other spices with a similar, but weaker, flavor and aroma that can be substituted in most recipes.
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Use black cumin instead. A simple fix for cumin’s bitter taste, black cumin seeds are smaller and sweeter than the more common amber and white varieties. Black cumin seeds are available whole or ground and have a more complex flavor than other varieties. It is hard to substitute black cumin out of a recipe, as it is unique in taste and aroma, but it makes an adequate substitute for amber or white cumin.
Add chili powder instead of cumin. If black cumin is not for you, move on to the easily-available chili powder. Chili powder is available in the spice aisle of most grocery stores and is made from ground chili peppers and other spices. It adds a distinctive spicy flavor to recipes, without the strong taste or bitterness of cumin. Chili powder is an appropriate substitute for cumin in most chili recipes, though in some other recipes it may yield acceptable results
Substitute caraway seeds for cumin. Caraway seeds are a member of the carrot family and are native to Europe and western Asia. Caraway contains similar essential oils to cumin, but they do not have the same bitter flavor or strong aroma. If you use caraway instead of cumin, add only half as much as the recipe calls for.
Mix caraway seeds with anise seeds to add a licorice flavor to your recipe. Anise seeds are closely related to cumin and are often used in conjunction with caraway as a substitute for ground cumin. Try out a variety of cumin alternatives in your cooking to find the one you like the best.
References and ResourcesFood.com; Kitchen Dictionary: Cumin
The Cook's Thesaurus; Spices
Agriculture and Agri-food Canada; Caraway Seed
Gourmet Sleuth; Dictionary: Anise Seeds