What is Caraway?

Uses, Benefits, and Recipes

Caraway Seeds
Dr. Neil Overy

A frequent addition to spice cabinets, caraway seeds are actually the dried fruit of the caraway plant. Nevertheless, they're commonly referred to as seeds in the culinary world. If you've ever eaten rye bread, you no doubt tasted caraway seeds.

Whole vs. Ground

Although the whole seed is frequently used, sometimes you'll want to impart caraway's distinctive flavor without the crunch of the whole seed. In this case, ground caraway can be used. The ground version is more potent, so if a recipe calls for one teaspoon of whole caraway, you would substitute a scant 3/4 teaspoon of the ground version.

Whole caraway seeds

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Ground caraway powder

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Ground caraway powder

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Whole caraway seeds

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What Does It Taste Like?

Caraway seeds are highly aromatic and have a distinctive mild anise flavor that adds a welcome and subtle licorice hint to many dishes. Their taste is earthy, with a hint of citrus and pepper. 

Cooking With Caraway

Caraway seeds are frequently used in baking. The seeds found in most types of rye and soda bread are caraway, and they are a traditional ingredient in a British seed cake. Caraway seeds are also used in flavoring curries, soups, sausages, vegetables, and even liqueurs, such as the Scandinavian spirit aquavit. They're sometimes used for pickling and brining as well. Caraway seeds pair well with garlic, pork, and cabbage. Ways to use caraway seeds include:

  • Add caraway seeds to potato salad or coleslaw.
  • Add a pinch to any tomato-based sauce or soup.
  • Sprinkle over roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes.
  • Mix into a cheese dip.
  • Sprinkle onto baked apples to enhance the flavor.
  • Add to shortbread cookies or Irish soda bread cookies.
  • Use to flavor beef goulash or kielbasa stew.
  • Add to any recipe that includes cabbage.
  • Use with a pork roast or pork chops.

Besides the seeds, caraway leaves are sometimes used as an herb, both fresh and dried, adding them to salads, soups and stews much like parsley. The root is sometimes also eaten as a vegetable, similar to celery root.

How to Toast Caraway Seeds

Toasted caraway seeds are a flavorful addition to loaves of bread and salads, but the earthy fennel and anise taste is mild until the seed is cooked or dry roasted. To toast caraway seeds, place a small dry skillet over medium-high heat and add the seeds. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the seeds are fragrant. Remove from heat and let the seeds cool. Then, add them to your favorite baked goods.

Recipes With Caraway

The following recipes all feature whole caraway seed.

Substitutions

Caraway can be substituted with, and can be used as a substitute for, a number of spices that also come from the Apiaceae family, including aniseed, celery seed, dill seed, fennel seed, coriander seed and whole cumin. The flavors won't be exactly the same, but each will provide a unique and distinctive flavor while not being wholly dissimilar. Both aniseed and fennel seeds will provide the same liquorice note as caraway.

Where to Buy Caraway

Whole and ground caraway are both available at grocery stores in the spice aisle. Caraway leaves and caraway root are both much less common. The dried leaves can sometimes be purchased from online retailers, or from herb specialty shops. The root can sometimes be found at farmers' markets. But for both the leaves and the root, your best bet might be growing your own caraway plants.

Storage

The best way to store caraway, both whole and ground, is to keep them in airtight containers in a cool, dry place. You can store whole caraway in the refrigerator if you really want to prolong its shelf-life. But for the most part, as long as you keep your spices away from sunlight and away from the heat of your stove, and keep them sealed in airtight glass jars, you'll be doing all you can to keep them fresh. Whole caraway will keep much longer than the ground version, so if you want to use it in its ground form, it's best to grind or crush the seeds yourself.

Benefits of Caraway

Some studies suggest that caraway may be an anti-oxidant, an anti-inflammatory, may aid in digestion, and may promote weight loss. It is also traditionally used as a breath freshener.