Cumin is sometimes confused with caraway. Cumin is hotter to the taste, lighter in color, and the seeds are larger than those of caraway. Cumin's distinctive flavor is strong and has a warm aroma due to its essential oil content.
Cumin is the dried seed of an herb plant (Cuminum cyminum) that resembles parsley. The seeds are used both whole and ground in the cuisines of many cultures. This relative of fennel and caraway is often seen in curries, Mexican dishes, and breads but also in some cheeses and as an herb in some digestive schnapps. Germans call this seed kreuzkümmel.
Other Types of Cumin
Black cumin (Nigella sativa) is often called black onion seed or schwarzkümmel in German and is more closely related to the buttercup family of plants. It looks like black sesame seeds and is often found on top of fladenbrot, a type of flatbread that's sold all over Germany in Turkish markets.
Another black cumin, Bunium persicum, is used in Middle Eastern and Indian dishes. It is crescent-shaped, dark brown, and in the same family as cumin and caraway.
Both black cumin seeds have medicinal properties attributed to them, and most of the spices in the dill/fennel/caraway family are seen as digestive aids in folklore.
Caraway seeds from the plant Carum carvi are known as kümmel in German. They are crescent-shaped, long, and have five pale ridges.
Caraway is more common in the German kitchen than cumin and is typically used whole, not ground. It has an anise-like flavor and aroma that is popular in breads (especially rye breads), cheeses, sauerkraut, and root vegetables. It also can be found in desserts, liquors, and as an ingredient in beauty products, folk medicine, and breath fresheners.