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These two seed spices seem confusingly similar. I have never used ajwain before. A new recipe I intend to try out calls for jowan (carom seeds) which, according to Google and Wikipedia, are also called ajwain. The pictures I found online of ajwain resemble fennel and caraway seeds but seem smaller than either. Since there are two different Wiki pages for caraway and ajwain, I was certain they were different things.

Today I saw a pack of ajwain at an Indian grocery store but "(caraway)" was also printed on the packaging. As per Wikipedia, ajwain is also called ajowan caraway. But how different are they?

  1. How are they different in taste and actual use?
  2. If I don't have ajwain what'd be a good substitute?
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You are right about Ajwain and Caraway seeds, they are very different when it comes to taste; although both are considered as good digestives and add a distinct flavor to the dish.

Coming to your two questions @Neil hinted about how they taste. As its hard to describe how exactly they taste, I will mention how I used them.

I have used Ajwain when making concotions or when I am making chilli dumplings (mirchi bajji in regional language) with gram flour as they aid digestion of flour.

Caraway, I usually put a pinch of these when cooking rice as its gives nice aroma to the final dish you make, example tomato rice(rice mixed with some veggies and other Indian spices), meat pilaf's etc.

Although I cannot think of any real substitute to Ajwain, you can try adding some cumin seeds which is somewhat close. Hope this helps, happy cooking.

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  • Thank you. This is an exceptional answer! A quick follow-up: I also saw a spice in grocery stores that looks like cumin and caraway but darker. It is labeled "black cumin". That is a totally different spice from caraway and ajwain, right? – Eddie Kal May 28 at 21:54
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    Glad it helped. :) Yes, it is a different spice when compared with Ajwain and not very different from Caraway. Also, I believe it belongs to family of cumin. In Hindi, cumin seeds are called 'Jeera', while black cumin is called 'Shah Jeera' and can be used just like caraway seeds. – St1id3r May 28 at 22:00
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Ajwain is a plant in the family apiaceae, and its seed, which is used (especially in south Asian cooking) for its thyme-like flavor while caraway is a biennial plant, native to Europe and Asia, mainly grown for its seed to be used as a culinary spice.

Ajwain is used more for saviory dishes for it's thyme like qualities, while caraway is more used in baked goods similar to how aniseed is used.

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