Cumin spice is the dried seed of the cumin plant and can be purchased as whole seeds or already ground. It lends a warm, earthy flavor to recipes. But, when a recipe calls for cumin and you don't have any on hand, use one of the following substitutes in its place.
Caraway Seeds as Cumin Substitute
Cumin and caraway are both in the parsley family. They are similar in appearance and taste, though cumin has a stronger, hotter flavor.
Use caraway seeds in place of cumin seeds, or ground caraway in place of ground cumin. Start with half as much as the recipe calls for, and adjust to suit your tastes. This substitute shouldn't affect the color of your recipe.
Ground Coriander Seeds as Cumin Substitute
As another member of the parsley family, ground coriander is another option, though using it will change the flavor of your recipe some. It has the earthy, lemony flavor of cumin, but lacks the heat. If your recipe calls for a tablespoon of cumin, use about a half tablespoon of ground coriander seed. Then, consider adding a bit of chili powder to bring in some heat.
Chili Powder as Cumin Substitute
Cumin is one of the main ingredients in chili powder, so using it as a substitute is a way to get some of that cumin flavor back into your recipe.
Since chili powder typically also includes paprika, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder and oregano, you should consider how these additional ingredients will work in your recipe. They'll affect the flavor, but they'll alter the color, too. Cumin has a nutty brown color, while most chili powders are red.
Use half what is called for, so you don't overdo the heat. You can always add more per your preference.
Garam Masala as Cumin Substitute
This Indian spice mix includes a healthy dose of cumin. It also typically includes coriander, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, creating a complex flavor that is at once earthy, sweet, citrusy and spicy.
The color is very similar to that of cumin, so it won't change the appearance of your recipe significantly. Half as much is again a good place to start. It's easier to add to a recipe than it is to subtract.
Curry Powder as Cumin Substitute
The ingredients in curry powder vary, but cumin always figures in heavily. A typical curry powder also includes coriander, turmeric, ginger, mustard, fenugreek seed, black pepper, and cinnamon. These lend an earthy, sweet and spicy flavor to whatever dish the curry powder is used in.
If you decide this substitute seems like the best fit for your recipe, know that it will alter the color quite a bit. Turmeric is bright yellow. Use half the amount of cumin that is called for and adjust from there.
Taco Seasoning Mix as Cumin Substitute
The ingredients in taco seasoning are very similar to those in chili powder. In addition to cumin, you can expect chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, pepper, and salt.
Be sure to consider the impact of that last ingredient. Store-bought taco seasoning mixes tend to have a fair amount of salt. You may find it necessary to reduce the amount of salt called for in your recipe to compensate for the extra that you're adding. And again: start with half the measure called for, so you can tweak the recipe to your tastes.
How To Grind Cumin Seeds
If all you have are the whole cumin seeds they are easy to grind into powder. Pop the seeds into a coffee or spice grinder, and give them a quick whirl. One teaspoon of cumin seeds will yield about 3/4 teaspoon of ground cumin.