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Behind the Seasoning: Cumin Seeds - Uses, Benefits & Recipes

Spoon on white background with whole cumin seeds
With their distinctive aroma and earthy taste, cumin seeds have become a staple in kitchens around the world.

When it comes to adding a burst of flavor to savory dishes, cumin seeds reign supreme. In this article, we’ll delve into the wonderful world of cumin seeds, exploring their characteristics, health benefits, culinary applications, and more.

What are cumin seeds?

Cumin seeds are the dried seeds of the Cuminum cyminum plant, which is actually related to parsley. These seeds are small and brown in color. Cumin seeds have a rich history and have long been revered for their culinary and medicinal uses. Like all seeds, cumin retains its essential oils (which translates to flavor) until ground. 

What’s the difference between cumin and cumin seeds?

Cumin, comino, cumin seeds, jeera, cumino, kamoun…they all mean the same thing and refer to the whole, dried seeds. Ground cumin seeds are simply the same seeds that have been powdered. Both have their own advantages and uses but whole cumin seeds have a more pronounced flavor. 

What does cumin taste like?

Cumin seeds have a earthy, warm, and slightly nutty taste. Some people note a subtle bitterness or hint of citrus. The aroma is intense with strong earthy and slightly smoky notes. Cumin seeds are typically used in combination with other spices, which can highlight some of these flavor attributes.

Can we eat cumin seeds directly?

Yes, you can eat cumin seeds. They can also be used as a garnish or topping for salads, yogurt and dips, or roasted vegetables. However, the cumin taste can be overpowering when eaten on their own. Combining them with other spices and ingredients will temper their flavor, allowing them to contribute a pleasant, earthy flavor that isn’t overwhelming.

What other spices, seasonings, and flavors pair well with cumin seeds?

Cumin seeds blend well with a wide range of spices. They complement other warm spices like coriander seeds, cardamom, and cinnamon, creating a robust and aromatic flavor. Cumin seeds are found in many seasonings, including chili powder and curry powder.

What is cumin seed good for? 

Cumin seeds are used in many different cuisines and with many different dishes. Using cumin with other spices can highlight different flavor qualities. For example, in curry and other Indian dishes, cumin seeds might be paired with turmeric which will deepen the earthy and slightly bitter notes. In Mexican and Tex-Mex cooking, like in fajitas, cumin and coriander are often used in combination, which pulls out the bright and citrusy notes. Cumin seeds also pair well with lentils and root vegetables and are often found in soups - like our Cumin Carrot Soup.

Jar of cumin with cumin carrot soup and garlic bread

What to Substitute for Cumin Seeds

Ground cumin and cumin seeds can be used somewhat interchangeably - however whole cumin seeds add both texture and flavor. Cumin seeds substitute perfectly for ground cumin - as you can easily grind cumin yourself. In a pinch, you can experiment with other earthy spices, including caraway seeds, fennel (which will also add licorice-like notes so be careful not to start with too much), as well as white pepper, coriander, and turmeric. Note that each spice also adds their own flavors so there isn’t a “true” substitute. Depending on the recipe, you can also add a blend that has strong notes of turmeric, like chili powder or curry powder.

How and where to buy cumin seeds?

Cumin seeds are one of the most common spices and are widely available. However, it’s important to note that cumin (or jeera) is not the same as black cumin (or kala jeera). Black cumin can often be found at Indian grocery stores. We sell Cumin Seeds and Ground Cumin Seeds

How long do cumin seeds last?

When stored properly (out of direct light and away from heat) and in an air-tight container, whole cumin seeds can retain their flavor and quality for up to two years. Remember that grinding cumin releases the volatile oils that give cumin its flavor, so ground cumin will lose its potency much more quickly. 

Spoon with ground cumin on neutral background

Are there health benefits of cumin seeds?

Cumin seeds are reported to have numerous health benefits. Cumin seed benefits include being high in antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation. Cumin seeds are also a good source of iron. Cumin is also reported to aid in digestion and to help with indigestion.

Can cumin reduce belly fat?

While cumin seeds may be an aid for weight loss, it’s important to note that no single food or spice can magically melt away fat. However, incorporating cumin seeds into a healthy, balanced diet may support weight management.

Can I drink cumin water every day?

Cumin water is made by soaking cumin seeds in water overnight. It is believed by some to aid digestion and promote health. As with any dietary change or supplement, it’s advisable to consult with your healthcare professional before making any significant changes?

Does cumin have side effects?

Using cumin seeds benefits many people and cumin seeds are generally safe for most people. As with anything, consuming larger than normal quantities can have side-effects for some. The quantities of cumin used in culinary applications and for normal recipes generally shouldn’t cause any digestive issues or reactions.

How to use cumin seeds? Cooking Tips & More

The best way to get the most flavor from whole cumin seeds is to roast or fry them before using or grinding. This process helps release their oils, which intensifies their flavor. It’s a very simple process that will add a major flavor boost to your cooking (and can also be used for other seeds).

How to toast cumin seeds

You may be surprised how easy it is to toast cumin seeds. Dry roasting (or toasting) them before use will amplify their flavor. You’ll know they are ready when you start to smell them, as they become more aromatic after toasting.

  1. Heat a skillet or pan over medium heat.
  2. Add the seeds in a single layer.
  3. Toast for about 2-3 minutes, shaking the skillet or stirring constantly to prevent burning.
  4. The seeds are toasted once they turn slightly darker (but not burnt!) and aromatic.
  5. Remove the skillet from the heat and let cool before grinding or using.

If the whole seeds are being added directly to a dish, you can also fry them in oil or ghee instead of roasting them. This will not only amplify the taste of the cumin seeds themselves but will also infuse the oil with the cumin flavor. Simply add them to hot oil in a pan and let them sizzle for 1-2 minutes before adding the other ingredients.

How do I grind cumin seeds?

Grinding cumin seeds is one way to maximize their flavor. Transforming cumin seeds to ground cumin is easy if you have the right tools. You can use a spice grinder, electric coffee grinder, or mortar and pestle to grind seeds. Once they are ground, we suggest using them as soon as possible for maximum flavor. If you need to store them, an airtight container will help maintain freshness.

Halloumi Tikka Masala with grilled naan bread, lemons, and herbs

Recipes Using Cumin Seeds

We’ve put together a brief list that highlights the different ways you can use whole cumin seeds. From pickling to cumin seed tea, the possibilities are virtually limitless.

Halloumi Tikka Masala - When making your own curry spice blend for tikka masala, cumin is an essential ingredient.

Turkish Red Lentil Soup - Cumin seeds pair very well with lentils, as their earthiness is a great balance for the sweet and nutty notes of lentils.

Able’s Peppercorn Puerco Pebil - Pepper, allspice, and cumin accent the rich, earthy taste of this pork marinade.

Cumin Spiced Potato Salad - Earthy cumin and tangy pickles add a little something extra to a classic potato salad.

Cilantro-Coriander Pickled Jalapeños - Add a combination of whole seeds to maximize flavor when pickling jalapenos (or anything else!)

Herbal “Seed” Tea Blend - This caffeine-free herbal tea is actually a mix of seeds that infuse earthy, citrusy, and licorice flavor into hot water.

Recipes with ground cumin

More of a “buy ground cumin” kind of person? No problem. Before you start cooking, just take a quick smell to make sure your cumin is fresh enough to add flavor. Remember, no smell means no flavor! 

Cumin is featured in dishes around the world. Here are some of our favorites.

Moroccan Chicken Skewers with Herb Sauce - With cumin seeds for earthiness and ginger for brightness, this zesty herb sauce is great over chicken skewers (or with pita chips!)

Vietnamese Sweet Curry Roast Chicken - Cumin seeds are also used in southeast Asian cuisine, in this case alongside curry powder for added depth of flavor.

Peruvian Turkey Burgers - Inspired by Peruvian flavors, these turkey burgers are a great way to change up your weeknight grilling.

Colorado Green Chili - Cumin is an absolutely essential ingredient in homemade pork green chili.

Mexican Style Vinaigrette - Perfect for a southwestern salad or drizzled over grilled shrimp, this simple vinaigrette packs bold flavor.

Carne Asada Tacos - An easy, spice-infused marinade gives these steak street tacos an authentic taste.

Carne Asada Tacos on bright blue background

For more international flavor inspiration, shop our World Flavors collection. Have a favorite way to use cumin? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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Savory Spice - September 21, 2023

Yes, Cumin and Jeera are two names for the same spice. Often, you might see the same spice or the same ingredient layered in recipes or divided and added at different times in the cooking process. Adding a spice early in the cooking process gives a more subtle flavor while adding it at the end makes the flavor stronger. Adding a spice both at the beginning and end of a dish creates complexity and depth of flavor.

K . Ganesan - September 21, 2023

Are Cumin & Jeera seeds same ? If so , why they are added in the SAME DISH at different stages of cooking ?

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