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Cumin Substitute (9 Best Options)

There’s nothing like trying out a new recipe. That is, until you start to gather everything and realize you don’t have any cumin on your spice rack. Is there a substitute for cumin powder? As it turns out, a cumin replacement is easy to find in your kitchen.

Before you find the best cumin substitute, though, it helps to learn more about what this spice is so you’ll know the best alternative to cumin to choose for your dish.

Close up image of the measuring spoon filled with cumin spice next to glass jar.

What is Cumin?

Cumin comes from the dried seeds of a plant called Cuminum cyminum, which comes from the southern portion of Asia. Believe it or not, it is part of the parsley family.

The seeds are used in a variety of cuisines, including Asian, African, and Latin American styles.

You can find cumin in whole seeds that you can use as-is or grind yourself. You can also find it already ground into a powder.

Cumin has an earthy and warm flavor that gives a rich and hearty taste to your dishes.

Using alternative spices is helpful when you don’t have any cumin in your cabinet. Knowing what you can use as a substitute for cumin powder will help create the bold flavors you want.

Best Cumin Substitute

1. Coriander Seeds

Coriander is a little sweeter compared to nutty cumin; it works beautifully in Indian dishes. Coriander seeds can be used as cumin replacement in soups, sauces, and meats to enhance the flavor.

They have a bounty of nutritious elements to them, and since they’re in the parsley family, too, coriander seeds can bridge the gap from missing cumin.

Coriander seeds are earthy, too. They’re only missing a little heat to add to your dish, which you can balance in other ways. You’ll find these seeds make a perfect substitute for cumin in a pinch.

How to use coriander seeds as an alternative to cumin:

When your dish calls for ground cumin, you can grind your own coriander seeds to get the texture right.

But what about that heat balance? Simple! Just use half a teaspoon of ground coriander seeds plus a pinch of cayenne pepper for every teaspoon of cumin called for in your recipe.

2. Caraway Seeds

Another member of the parsley family, caraway seeds may become your favorite cumin substitution. They look the same as well, though these seeds are far more bitter.

You’ll find the taste of caraway seeds to be almost identical to cumin, making them a fine alternative to cumin.

These seeds give you more of a lemony finish. They are also darker than cumin, but the taste is milder.

You may find this substitution works best in Middle Eastern or South Asian dishes.

How to use caraway seeds as a cumin substitute:

When you want to replace ground cumin, you should grind up your caraway seeds. Take a ½ teaspoon of the ground caraway seeds and add a pinch of paprika to it. This method will replace a teaspoon of cumin as needed.

3. Fennel Seeds

While fennel seeds may not seem that similar to cumin since they’re a bit sweeter, they can still help you as a cumin alternative spice.

You may find they work best when making meatballs, sauces, sausages, soups, and more.

Fennel seeds may look like cumin; they are not earthy, nor do they contain the heat associated with cumin. Still, with a few tweaks, you will find they make a proper stand-in for your missing cumin.

How to use fennel seeds as a cumin replacement:

You can use fennel seeds in place of cumin seeds. You can also grind them up to make a powder.

You’ll want to use a half teaspoon of fennel seeds to replace one full teaspoon of cumin seeds. Ideally, you should taste to see if you need to adjust by adding a little bit more to balance out your flavors.

While it will be a little different from cumin, it will come out with a wonderful taste. If you want more heat, throw in just a pinch of paprika to kick things up a bit.

4. Chili Powder

Chili powder is a great way to rescue a dish that requires cumin. If you need a cumin substitute, chili powder usually contains cumin in it along with other spices. However, if going too spicy is hard on your digestive issues, this may be a cumin alternative to avoid.

The good news is that chili powder and the seasonings included in it, like onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper, can make up for having cumin on its own.

Using chili powder as a cumin substitute will work in things like chili, Mexican dishes, or even South Asian fare; you will not want to use it to replace cumin in Middle Eastern recipes because the other spices will throw off the flavors.

Aside from that, when you add this spice in, you’ll get a nice bright red color to liven up your dish.

How to use chili powder as a substitute for cumin powder:

If you’re making Mexican dishes, chili powder makes one of the best substitutes. It is a bit spicier, so keep that in mind when adding it in lieu of cumin to avoid making your dish hotter than intended.

To use chili powder to replace cumin, all you need is a half teaspoon for every teaspoon of cumin powder called for in the recipe.

5. Star Anise seeds

Anise seeds look like stars and have a unique aroma and flavor. While it’s not the best replacement for some styles of cuisine where cumin is needed, the star anise can certainly save you a trip to the supermarket on many occasions.

Star anise has been revered in Asian cultures for centuries. If you are making Indian, Middle Eastern, or Chinese dishes, you may find that anise seeds will add a nice flavor.

However, if you’re in need of a substitution for Mexican dishes, star anise will not adapt all that well.

How to use star anise seeds as a cumin substitute:

Again, it’s best to try ground star anise seeds in place of cumin for Indian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern cuisine. The ground gives more of a precision flavor while using them whole creates a more aromatic experience over a flavorful one.

You can replace one teaspoon of ground cumin with a half teaspoon of ground star anise. If you’re replacing cumin seeds, use 3 or 4 intact star anise seeds to replace a teaspoon’s worth.

6. Curry Powder

There are different blends of curry powder that may make for an excellent cumin replacement. Depending on the type of curry powder you have, it usually features a blend of other spices that include coriander, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, mustard seed, fenugreek seed, and black pepper.

These exotic flavors will undoubtedly add their own twist to your dish when used as substitution cumin, though the dish you’re making may not be a match for this one. Filled with earthy spices, you’ll add the depth you’re missing when you are out of cumin.

How to use curry powder as a cumin alternative spice:

Curry powder is a good cumin substitute in soups, sauces, and marinades. If you need to replace cumin seeds, curry powder is not the best option from this list.

You can replace one teaspoon of cumin powder with a half teaspoon of curry powder for the sauces and such. Be sure to taste it before serving to make sure it is to your liking!

7. Taco Seasoning

Do you have taco seasoning? Then, you can use it as a substitute for cumin powder! This Mexican must-have can be found in most kitchens, though it is easy to make yourself.

All it takes is a blend of chili powder, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, ground coriander, garlic powder, ground cumin, and salt. 

While some of the spices in taco seasoning are healthy, the addition of salt may give you too much sodium.

That’s why making your own taco seasoning is best so you can control the sodium content. But if you need a cumin replacement in a pinch, taco seasoning will certainly help your Mexican meals pop with pleasure. 

How to use taco seasoning as a cumin substitute:

Taco seasoning will work best as a cumin replacement if you’re cooking Mexican food, though it may work in some Indian dishes as well.

When using store-bought taco seasoning, be cautious about the sodium content so you don’t add anything else that would make it taste too salty.

Replacing cumin with taco powder only requires half a teaspoon of taco seasoning to make up for one teaspoon of ground cumin. 

8. Garam Masala

Garam masala is an Indian spice blend that brings the heat. It includes both black and white peppercorns, fennel seeds, green and black cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, coriander, mace, cinnamon, and cumin.

Garam masala is a nice substitution for cumin because this blend of spices brings flavor, heat, and an earthy component that effortlessly elevates dishes.

It also smells delightful, though you may have to look at an Asian or Indian market to find it if you don’t see it in your supermarket’s spice aisle.

How to use garam masala as an alternative to cumin:

Garam masala is an ideal cumin replacement since it contains some cumin in the blend. It won’t add any additional coloring to your meal either, though you may notice things are slightly more aromatic.

To replace a teaspoon of cumin powder, you’ll want to use no more than half a teaspoon of garam masala.

9. Paprika

Made from sweet bell peppers, paprika is slightly sweet and doesn’t add any heat.

It makes a nice garnish, though, for a cumin substitute; heating it brings out that earthy flavor.

Smoked paprika is also another option that adds what you’re missing when you’ve run out of cumin.

How to use paprika as a cumin substitute:

Paprika has a nice smoky quality, even if it has less heat than cumin. If you are using paprika as a substitution for cumin, more heat is needed to fire up your dish; adding red pepper will make up for that lack of spiciness.

It will also add a gorgeous red color to your dish, though that may not be desired in some cases. You can use half a teaspoon of paprika and chili powder to replace a teaspoon of cumin powder in your recipes.


While each of these nine spices above can save you when you’ve run out of cumin, it’s important to look at what you’re cooking first. Some of these cumin replacements may be a better fit than others. But if you have these spices in your pantry, you’re well-poised to make flavorful dishes without a run to the store for cumin!

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!
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