Inside the Spice Cabinet: Cumin

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Iasmina Calinciuc)

Cumin is one of those spices (whole or ground) that’s essential for any spice cupboard. Just a teaspoon adds a hint of smokiness, use more and your dish infused with sweet earthy flavors.

What Is Cumin?

Taste: Bitter, sweet
Most Popular Use: Curries, spice blends, stews

Here in the United States, we most often associate the flavor of cumin with southwestern and Mexican cooking. This spice is actually native to southwest Asia and made its way into cuisines around the world through the spice trade. It’s a hallmark in North African, Indian, and Middle Eastern cooking.

With a similar appearance to caraway seeds, cumin is the dried fruit of a plant in the parsley family. Cumin has a nutty, smoky flavor that works well in combination with other spices like chilis, cinnamon, and coriander. The dried seeds are tiny and oblong, and the spice is a light orange-brown when ground. It can be purchased and used whole or ground, and it best stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry, and dark location for up to six months.

How To Use Cumin

Cumin can be used both as the whole seed or ground. Cumin seed benefits from toasting before use to being out its aromatic, nutty flavor. Cumin is a staple ingredient in most curry powders and many spice blends. It’s reserved primarily for savory recipes, like chili, stews, meat, fish, and vegetables.

Recipes for Cooking with Cumin