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Cumin, Cummin, White Cumin or Jeera is core to everybody's spice cupboard. Cumin seeds, whole or ground, are a key ingredient in curries.

Cumin seeds are 5 mm (¼ inch) in length, tapered at both ends, slightly curved. Cumin seeds range in colour from pale brown to khaki and have a dull tone to them. Each cumin seed has fine ridges along its length and a hair-like tail.

Cumin's aroma is pungent and warm, earthy and sweet. The flavour of cumin is pungent, warming, earthy and slightly - but pleasantly - bitter. If desperate, you can substitute caraway seeds for cumin. Cumin seeds can be used "as is", but dry roasting or tempering them does enhance their nuttiness. Compared to coriander seeds, cumin seeds should be used more sparingly as their flavour is more pungent.

Cumin works well, whole or crushed, in salads, or with fish, poultry and meat. Cumin has an affinity with tomatoes and tomato sauces, giving a Mexican-style salsa, or spice tomatoes with cumin and some paprika for a more Moroccan flavour. Cumin is nowadays found in couscous dishes and merguez sausages.

Substitute:: switch cumin for caraway seeds but halve the quantities.

Further reading

  • Hemphill, I., Hemphill, K. (2014) The Spice and Herb Bible, Robert Rose. ISBN: 9780778804932.
  • Norman, J. (2015) Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference, DK Publishing. ISBN: 9781465435989.