Substitute for cumin?

I frequently come across recipes that call for cumin, a spice I loathe with a passion that passeth all understanding. I know I could just leave it out, but is there another spice that would be a good substitute in savory dishes?

Diana B
  • Posted by: Diana B
  • January 19, 2014


LeBec F. January 21, 2014
pierino, that is very odd about penzey's. It's not just wiki that includes cumin in the definition of garam masala; do some googling and ye shall see.While it varies from region to region and chef to chef, a random sampling through google brought up only two instances of GM without cumin.
"Back to the topic at hand. We compared recipes for Garam Masala from two authors: Julie Sahni and Madhur Jaffrey. Both have written wonderful cookbooks which are excellent and frequently consulted resources – these authors were instrumental in bringing the world of interesting, largely gluten free, Indian cooking to the North American audience.

For a generic Garam Masala (there are other more specialized types of garam masala as well) these authors offer varying formulas, using the following spices. The weights in parentheses are just there to give you an idea of the ratio of amounts that could be used – we have measured here the weights for one of the Jaffrey recipes:

Cardamom Seed (25 pods – see the picture below for a couple of pods next to the seeds from 25 pods)

Black Peppercorn (2 1/8 ounces or 62 grams)

Whole Cumin Seed (1 1/4 ounces or 36 grams)

Whole Coriander Seed (1/2 ounce or 15 grams)

Cinnamon Stick (3, 3 inch sticks)

Whole Cloves (4 to 6 cloves)"

btw, tonite i made a wonderful Tom Waits chicken dish of yours. wicked sumptuous.
Diana B. January 20, 2014
Thank you all for your ideas. Le Bec Fin, lots of good ideas there and all in my pantry/herb garden - and yes, there is a red onion in the recipe. Maedl, caraway does sound good and I don't use it much, so this would be a good excuse!
LeBec F. January 20, 2014
hi diana, i agree w/ maedl that caraway could work though it has some similarlty to cumin for me. I am a huge cumin lover and i always toast and grind my cumin rather than use it raw- when it's a bit soapy flavored rather than warm and nutty. For the flavors in that frittata, i think Pimenton Dulce would be perfect , which is a 'sweet' (= 'not hot' smoked paprika from Spain. It works best if you saute it with your onions and/or potatoes. Otherwise , and I hate to say it because Rosemary is sooooo overused imo,but rosemary,chives and thyme would all complement the flavors of the components you listed. Lots of garlic and onion are in it,yes? Sounds really delicious. Jerusalem artichokes are my very fav vegetable.
Maedl January 19, 2014
Considering the other ingrdients in your recipe, perhaps some caraway? Not much, because it can be powerful, but just a touch. I think it would definitely work with the potatoes, kerusalem artichoke amd spinach, although I am not sure about the asparagus. the asparagus
chef E. January 19, 2014
Diana B. January 19, 2014
Le Bec Fin, I'm not nuts about hot stuff, like chili and chili powder, and not enormously fond of curry powder, either. The most recent recipe I ran across that I thought I'd try until I hit "cumin" is the Potato, Jerusalem artichoke, spinach and asparagus frittata with Cumin in Beatrice Peltre's book, La Tartine Gourmande. It only calls for a teaspoon of cumin for a 9-inch frittata serving 8, but it would be rather boring without some kind of spice, I think.

And thanks very much to the rest of you for your suggestions and ideas!
sexyLAMBCHOPx January 19, 2014
Aleppo pepper is wonderful, but could certainly overtake a dish in copious amounts. What's the dish?
pierino January 19, 2014
Another alternative might be garam masala which is a punjabi spice blend containing no cumin. You can find it at Penzey's.
LeBec F. January 20, 2014
sam,i don't know where you got that misconception but garam masala has always/ almost always had cumin as a key player.
LeBec F. January 20, 2014
called you sam by accident. sorry!
pierino January 20, 2014
LBF, you can call me Sam even if it's not my name. The garam marsala from Penzey's which I'm holding in my hand contains no cumin. It's pleasingly spicy but not hot. I've used it in small amounts in Chinese dishes. Keep in mind that wikipedia is incorrect at least as often as it is accurate.
Maedl January 19, 2014
You might try dry-roasting cumin seeds in a frying oan and then grinding them. Roasting brings out different flavors. And since you don't like cumin, use smaller amounts than the recipe calls for. Sometimes you just have to learn to like something. I didn't like cumin too much to begin with, but with use in various recipes, I have come to like it a lot.
Mary January 19, 2014
Diana~ i find that if you aren't fond of a certain spice in something its becauseto you it overwhelms the taste of what your fixing....if thats the case I just use less of what the recipe calls for and you still have the taste but its much more suttle
LeBec F. January 19, 2014
diana, you hate curry powder and chili powder too? and you hate chili? I ask because the regular supermarket brands of both are usually predominantly cumin. There's not an easy answer unless you reference certain recipes as examples. It's similar to you saying, "I hate pink; what other color can i wear instead of pink?" and the answer would depend on what OTHER colors are in your outfit, right? So let us help you; give us some specific recipe references/links.
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