What Is Cumin Powder

Cumin is one of the most popular spices used around the world. It has a warm, earthy flavor that complements both savory and sweet dishes.

What Is Cumin Powder

Cumin powder is made from ground cumin seeds and is a versatile spice that can be added to curries, stews, soups, marinades, and even baked goods.

What is Cumin?

What is Cumin

Cumin comes from the dried seed of the Cuminum cyminum plant, which is a member of the parsley family. The seeds are boat-shaped and typically yellowish-brown in color. Cumin originated in the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern regions, where it has been used for thousands of years. Ancient Egyptians not only used cumin seeds as a spice but also as a way to preserve mummies. Cumin was also popular with the Greeks, Romans, and during Biblical times. It spread to the Indian subcontinent, North Africa, and Mexico during colonization.

Today, cumin is one of the most widely consumed spices in the world. The largest producers are India, Syria, Turkey, and Mexico.

What Does Cumin Taste Like?

Cumin has a strong, warming, and bittersweet flavor. It is often described as earthy, nutty, spicy, and musky. When raw, the seeds can taste quite bitter. That's why cumin seeds are often dry-roasted or toasted before being used. This brings out their full aroma and flavor.

When ground into a powder, cumin has an even more intense taste. Just a pinch can add a smoky depth and savory aroma to dishes. Cumin powder is more potent than whole seeds, so you need less to get the same flavor impact. The flavor pairs well with other robust spices and ingredients like chili powder, garlic, onions, beans, lentils, lamb, and rice.

The Difference Between Cumin Seeds and Cumin Powder

Cumin seeds are just whole, dried seeds. They are added at the start of cooking in order to infuse the oil and the entire dish with their flavor. Common in Indian, Middle Eastern, and North African cooking.

Cumin powder is made from ground, dried cumin seeds. The essential oils have been released so the flavor is more concentrated. This powdered form can be added at any stage of cooking. It's convenient for sprinkling over finished dishes.

How to Make Cumin Powder from Seeds

Making your own freshly ground cumin powder is easy and ensures maximum flavor. Here's how:

  • Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and toast for 1-2 minutes until fragrant.
  • Transfer to a plate and let cool completely. This stops the cooking process.
  • Grind the toasted seeds in a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or with a mortar and pestle.
  • Store the freshly ground powder in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.

Tip: Grind small batches at a time for the best flavor. Cumin powder starts losing its potency quickly once ground.

How to Use Cumin Powder in Cooking

Cumin powder is more potent than the seeds, so you'll need less to pack a flavor punch. Here are some tips for cooking with cumin powder:

  • Add it to curries, stews, soups, and marinades. It's a key ingredient in garam masala, curry powder, and taco seasoning.
  • Rub it on meat before grilling or roasting. It pairs especially well with lamb and beef.
  • Sprinkle it over roasted vegetables like carrots, potatoes, and cauliflower.
  • Add it to bean dishes and lentils.
  • Combine it with plain yogurt and use it as a marinade for chicken.
  • Stir some into the rice along with onions and garlic when making pilafs.
  • Add a pinch to pancake, waffle, and bread batters. Or dust it over snacking nuts.

Start with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of cumin powder for 4-6 servings. Adjust to taste, adding more if you want a stronger flavor.

Complementary Spices and Flavors

Cumin pairs wonderfully with these other ingredients:

Spices: Chili powder, curry powder, ginger, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, paprika, cardamom

Herbs: Cilantro, parsley, oregano, mint

Vegetables: Potatoes, carrots, onions, tomatoes, spinach, peppers, squash

Legumes: Chickpeas, lentils, beans

Meats: Lamb, beef, chicken, fish

Dairy: Yogurt, cheese

Grains: Rice, couscous, bulgur wheat

Health Benefits of Cumin

Adding cumin powder to your diet provides some health perks as well. The seeds are an excellent source of iron, manganese, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin B1.

Research shows cumin may help:

  • Promote digestion
  • Support weight loss
  • Lower blood sugar and cholesterol
  • Have antioxidant and antimicrobial properties

So sprinkling on some cumin powder not only flavors your food but also offers nutritional benefits!

Where to Buy Cumin Powder

Look for cumin powder in the spice aisle at any grocery store or supermarket. It's readily available at most retailers and can be bought in both organic and conventional forms.

For the freshest and most flavorful cumin powder, try purchasing whole cumin seeds and grinding them yourself at home. Whole cumin seeds can be found at specialty spice shops, ethnic grocers, or online.

Store-bought ground cumin powder will maintain optimum flavor for about 6 months. Check expiration or best-by dates when purchasing.

How to Store Cumin Powder

To retain its flavor and aroma for as long as possible:

  • Keep cumin powder in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. The pantry or a kitchen cabinet works well.
  • Avoid exposure to heat, light, and moisture. This will cause cumin to lose potency faster.
  • Store for up to 6 months for best quality. Write the purchase or grind date on the jar.
  • Give your spice drawer a refresh from time to time. Replace old spices like cumin for new vibrant flavors.

Proper storage will keep cumin powder tasting its very best for many months.

Substitute for Cumin Powder

Substitute for Cumin Powder

If you don't have cumin powder on hand, these spices can work in a pinch:

  • Chili powder - Use half the amount and add a pinch of oregano.
  • Garam masala - An Indian spice blend containing cumin and warm spices.
  • Curry powder - Also contains cumin plus turmeric and coriander.
  • Caraway seeds - Closely related to cumin with a similar flavor.
  • Ground coriander seeds - Subtle flavor but won't provide spice and heat.

Cumin Tips

  • Toast the seeds before grinding to bring out the cumin's full flavor.
  • If a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds, use 1 1/4 tablespoons of ground cumin.
  • Look for cumin powder with a rich brown color; avoid yellowish/grey powder.
  • Make sure to smell the cumin before you buy it. It should have a strong, aromatic scent.
  • Start with a smaller amount of cumin powder in recipes then adjust to taste. You can always add more!

Cooking with Cumin Powder - Delicious Recipes to Try

Here are some tasty ways to start cooking with cumin powder:

Cumin Roasted Cauliflower

Coat cauliflower florets in olive oil and cumin powder. Roast at 400°F until browned and tender.

Chili Lime Shrimp Tacos

Marinate shrimp in chili powder, cumin, cilantro, lime juice, and olive oil. Grill and serve in warm corn tortillas.

Cumin Spiced Lentil Soup

Sauté onion, garlic, and cumin. Add broth, lentils, and vegetables. Simmer until lentils are tender.

Cumin Chicken Kebabs

Combine cumin powder, paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Coat chicken pieces, thread on skewers, and grill.

Spicy Cumin Hummus

Blend chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and cumin powder. Drizzle with olive oil and paprika.


Is cumin powder the same as ground cumin?

Yes, cumin powder and ground cumin are the same thing. They both refer to cumin seeds that have been ground into a fine powder.

What's the best way to substitute cumin powder for cumin seeds?

Use about 1 1/4 times the amount of cumin powder. So if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds, use 1 1/4 tablespoons of cumin powder.

Can you toast and grind cumin powder yourself?

Absolutely! Dry roasting cumin seeds before grinding them will provide a more intense flavor than pre-ground cumin powder.

What dishes use a lot of cumin powder?

Cumin is very popular in Indian curries, Mexican cuisine, Moroccan tagines, and Middle Eastern dishes. Chili, tacos, barbecue rubs, and falafel also rely on cumin powder.

Is it better to buy cumin powder or whole cumin seeds?

Whole cumin seeds will retain their potency longer. But cumin powder is more convenient when you need to add the spice quickly while cooking. Buy small quantities of ground cumin and replenish more frequently for the best flavor.


Cumin powder is an aromatic spice made from ground cumin seeds. Its warm, nutty, earthy flavor makes it a versatile ingredient around the world. Use cumin powder to add robust flavor to curries, tacos, lentils, meats, roasted veggies, and more. Store cumin powder properly in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Feel free to experiment with cumin powder in both savory and sweet recipes. A little of this flavor-packed spice goes a long way!

Sarah Cortez
Sarah Cortez

My name is Sarah and I'm a baker who loves trying out new recipes and flavor combinations. I decided to challenge myself to use a new spice or ingredient powder in my baking each week for a year. Some successes were the cardamom sugar cookies, vivid turmeric cake, and beetroot chocolate cupcakes. Failures included the bitter neem brownies and overwhelmingly hot ghost pepper snickerdoodles. Through this experience I've discovered amazing additions to spice up desserts while learning how to balance strong flavors. Follow my journey as I push the boundaries of baking with unique powders!

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