It is so easy to confuse caraway seeds and cumin seeds based on their appearance but these two are not only different in their taste but also uses for cooking.Using the wrong spice will change the taste of the dish. This guide will help in clarifying the difference between caraway VS cumin.
Have you bought a spice by looking at the shape and colour and not read the label, only to realise later that it is the wrong type of spice !?
This is easily done when you have two similar looking spices and in this case its cumin seeds and caraway seeds.
They may look like siblings but are not even of the same lineage!
The subtle difference between caraway seeds and cumin seeds in their colour and appearance is what makes them the most commonly confused spice.
But fear not, you do not need to throw away or neglect any of them when it comes to using the spices.
They are very flexible and the uses of caraway seeds and cumin seeds are many fold!!
Lets dive straight in.
Spices That Look Like Cumin
There are different types of spices that look like tiny seeds and are similar in appearance to cumin.
These spices are:
Caraway seeds , black cumin (also known as nigella seeds or black seeds) and fennel seeds and the less popular carom seeds. All these spices are like cumin seeds, but with completely different taste and flavour.
Although they look the same but belong to different families.
These tiny little seedy cousins are in effect far from being related yet easily confused by many.
Another commonly confused spice is fennel seeds Vs aniseed.
In my early culinary venture into the kitchen, I too was unsure these twins.
I was convinced that they were an exotic species of cumin seeds that came in different colours, just like the different types of cardamom.
One wrong buy of caraway seeds mistaken to be cumin seeds clarified it all!
It tasted absolutely different and surely was not the right fit for most Indian dishes I wanted to make.
And hence started my spice trial!!
Difference Between Caraway and Cumin Seeds
The reason I picked up the wrong kind of seeds is not only because of the similarity of their German names that is kreuzkümmel Vs kümmel but also their similar looks.
Caraway seeds is darker in colour when compared to cumin seeds.
Some confusingly refer to caraway seeds as black cumin due to the darker colour.
Caraway seeds are dark and light brown zebra type stripes on their skin and is smoother to touch.
The shape of a caraway seed also tends to be slightly curved and bendy. They can be smaller in size to cumin seeds as well. However, the difference in size is not always guaranteed.
Cumin seeds are light brown in colour and have relatively a rougher surface. The colour is more even without the darker stripes. It does not have the curves like caraway seeds and are more linear in shape.
So in body shape type one is curvy while the other is oblong!!
Even though the two look similar, their flavour is different.
While caraway seeds have a strong aromatic flavour, compared to the milder cumin seeds flavour.
The taste of caraway seeds is something akin to liquorice and it’s more nutty and earthy.
The taste tends to be a bit sharp and to some extent slightly pungent.
Cumin seeds fall under the sweet category of spices and are mellow to taste when cooked or eaten raw.
As the flavour of cumin seeds is not overriding, it makes a great base spice for many spice mixes, sauces and curries.
Uses of Caraway Seeds VS Cumin seeds in cooking
CUMIN SEEDS USES
The use of Cumin seeds in cooking can be traced back to the Mediterranean and Iranian regions.
- Cumin seeds can be used both in powder and whole seed form for making meats, rice and many vegetarian dishes both Indian and international.
- Crushed whole seeds are also added to breads, cheese, biscuits and to also to baked goods for cumin flavoured taste.
More ideas on the uses of cumin seeds and recipes in this post here.
CARAWAY SEEDS USES
Caraway seeds, on the other hand, is popularly used in Central and Eastern European cuisine particularly Germany, Finland, Sweden, Poland and Hungary.
However, the use of caraway seeds has overflowed to other cuisines as well. Here are some of the popular caraway spice uses:
- It is one of the main ingredients used for making Rye and Soda Bread.
- It is also used to cook curries, sauces, flavouring and even as a pickling spice.
- Crushed caraway seeds can be used in salad dressings.
- Add whole seeds to roast vegetables and even stir fries.
The infographic below classifies the difference between cumin and caraway and their uses in cooking in one glance.
Substitute for Caraway Seeds Or Cumin
We know now that the flavour and taste of caraway seeds and cumin seeds are both different. This means they really cannot be used as substitutes for each other.
But can you substitute caraway seeds with cumin seeds or vice versa in case you have no other option?
The answer is Yes, it will not be disastrous.
SUBSTITUTE FOR CARAWAY SEEDS
However the best substitutes for caraway feeds are:
Option 1 – fennel seeds or anise
Option 2 – star anise
Spices such as star anise, fennel seeds and anise belong to the liquorice family and have similar taste and flavour and can be easily substituted with the other.
SUBSTITUTE FOR CUMIN SEEDS
Since cumin seeds are more of a flavouring spice used for tempering dishes or add flavour to baked goods you can choose to omit it from the dish if you wish to.
The closest substitute for cumin seeds are:
Option 1 – cumin powder
Option 2 – coriander powder.
Using cumin seeds to replace caraway seeds is also a common practice, but do keep in mind that the flavours of the two are different and will give the dish a different taste, which is not that unappetising!
For cooking tips on possible spice substitute for some of the popular Indian spices, you can read my post on spice substitute guide here.
Where to buy Caraway and Cumin Seeds?
Both these spices are readily available in most large supermarkets these days.
Although you may find Cumin seeds to be the more popular of the two when it comes to shelf stocking.
Your local Indian store or ethnic store will surely have these.
Other than the traditional stores you can also order them online. Here is a list of few online store options for you:
US Online Stores
Switzerland & Europe Online Store
Price: Euro 4.75 Buy now
Price: Euro 2.95 Buy now
When it comes to buying and using caraway seeds and cumin seeds it’s important to remember that both have different flavour and taste.
Since they look very similar to each other, pay attention to the package and the colour of the seeds when buying.
Although not the best substitute for each other, it will not kill your dish if you do happen to replace one with the other.
Over to you
Have you ever got confused between caraway and cumin seeds and bought or used one for the other?
Let me know if there are any other spices you get mixed with. Will write something up for sure!