caraway vs. cumin: sweet vs. smoky flavor

caraway vs. cumin
Caraway and cumin are two popular spices people often confuse with one another. Still, caraway has a slightly sweet and anise-like flavor, while cumin has a more pungent and smoky taste. Caraway seeds go into rye bread, sauerkraut, and German-style dishes. At the same time, cumin is a staple ingredient in Middle Eastern, Mexican, and Indian cuisines, often used in dishes like chili, curries, and falafel.

What is caraway?

Caraway seeds
Caraway seeds

Caraway seeds come from a biennial plant (Carum carvi) belonging to the family Apiaceae, and it is commonly grown in Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It is a spice popular in European, Middle Eastern, and Indian dishes.

The seeds of the caraway plant have an intense, anise-like licorice flavor, which is warm, slightly sweet, and nutty.

They often flavor bread, cheese, cabbage dishes, soups, stews, and sauerkraut. The oil extracted from caraway seeds is common in perfumes, soaps, essential oils, and other cosmetic products.

Caraway is also rich in antioxidants, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, copper, and magnesium.

What is cumin?

Cumin seeds
Cumin seeds

Cumin comes from a flowering plant (Cuminum cyminum) belonging to the family Apiaceae, native to the Middle East and India. It is a spice widely used in Mexican, Indian, Middle Eastern, Latin American, and North African cuisines.

Cumin seeds have a warm, earthy, and slightly bitter flavor, with a strong aroma reminiscent of the Mediterranean. They can flavor chili, curry, stews, soups, and spice blends such as garam masala, curry powder, and taco seasoning.

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Cumin is also used in traditional medicine for its numerous health benefits, like treating digestive problems, respiratory conditions, and inflammation.

What is the difference between caraway seed and cumin seed?

Caraway vs. cumin
Caraway vs. cumin

In the Indian language, “jeera” means both cumin and caraway, which can be confusing, so here is a detailed comparison between caraway and cumin seeds:


Caraway seeds are native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. 

Cumin seeds, on the other hand, are native to the eastern Mediterranean region, Egypt, and the Middle East. 


Caraway seeds are small, crescent-shaped, and have a pale brown color. They have a distinct pattern of ridges on the surface.

Cumin seeds are oblong-shaped, have a slightly curved appearance, and have a dark brown color. They also have a distinctive pattern of ridges on their surface, but their ridges are more prominent than those of caraway seeds.


Caraway seeds have a warm, sweet, and nutty flavor with a hint of anise.

Cumin seeds have a warm, earthy, and slightly bitter flavor with a hint of citrus.


Caraway seeds are a usual ingredient in bread, cakes, pastries, sauerkraut, meat dishes, cheese, and alcoholic beverages and liqueurs like aquavit, schnapps, kummel, and gin.

Cumin seeds go with various dishes, including soups, stews, Indian curries, kormas chili, and roasted meat dishes. They work well with spice blends like garam masala and taco seasoning.

Shelf Life

Both caraway and cumin seeds can sit for up to 2 years in an airtight container in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.


Both caraway and cumin seeds are available in dried, raw, and powdered form. In addition, caraway seeds are also available in oil form, while cumin seeds are commonly used in whole or ground form.

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Comparison Table

Caraway seedsCumin seeds
OriginEurope, North Africa, Western AsiaEastern Mediterranean region, Egypt, Middle East
AppearanceA small, crescent-shaped, pale brown, distinct pattern of ridgesOblong-shaped, slightly curved, yellowish-brown, prominent ridges
FlavorWarm, slightly sweet, and nutty with a hint of aniseWarm, earthy, and slightly bitter with a hint of citrus
ApplicationsBread, pastries, sauerkraut, meat dishes, cheese, alcoholic beveragesIn soups, stews, curries, chili, roasted meat dishes, spice blends
Shelf lifeUp to 2 years if stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlightUp to 2 years if stored in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight
FormDried raw, powdered, and oil formWhole seed or ground form, occasionally powdered

How to use cumin?

Dried ground cumin is the most commonly used form of cumin, and it is added to spice blends, marinades, and rubs.

Whole cumin seeds can be dry-roasted in a pan to release their aroma and flavor before being ground into a powder — this enhances their nutty and toasty flavor.

Cumin seeds can also be used as a flavoring in soups, stews, and curries by adding them to the hot oil at the beginning of cooking.

Some recipes using cumin include:

  • Tacos
  • Curry dishes
  • Hummus
  • Falafel
  • Shakshuka

Must try recipe: Chili con carne

Cumin adds a warm and subtle flavor to the dish (when used in small quantities). It can taste spicy and slightly bitter if used in larger quantities.

How to use caraway?

Dried ground caraway is the most commonly used form of caraway, and it is added to spice blends, bread, and meat dishes.

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Whole caraway seeds can be dry-roasted in a pan to release their aroma and flavor before being ground into a powder.

Caraway seeds can flavor soups, stews, and sauerkraut.

Some recipes using caraway include:

  • Rye bread
  • Sauerkraut
  • Roast pork
  • Irish soda bread

Must try recipe: Caraway seed cake

Can I use caraway instead of cumin?

Even if they have different flavor profiles, there are some recipes where you can substitute cumin for caraway:

  • Rye bread: Caraway seeds are frequently in rye bread, but you can use cumin instead for a slightly different flavor.
  • Meat dishes: Cumin can be used instead of caraway seeds in meat dishes such as stews and roasts.
  • Spice blends: Cumin can work as a substitute for caraway seeds in spice blends such as garam masala or zaatar.

Use caraway seeds as a substitute for cumin seeds and ground caraway as a substitute for ground cumin. To start, replace cumin with half the amount of caraway, and adjust if necessary.

Other substitutes for cumin or caraway include:

  • Ground coriander
  • Fennel seeds
  • A combination of ground fennel and chili powder
  • Black cumin (Nigella sativa or nigella seeds)


Alexandra is a passionate writer with a deep appreciation for food - not just as nourishment but as an expression of culture, a reflection of history, and a celebration of life. She knows that everything in life requires a little spice - and gets a kick (get it?) every time she achieves the perfect combination of heat and depth.

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