I've just run out of cumin and rather than go to the shops for more I wonder what I could substitute for cumin?

I'm making a lentil soup, which calls for sweating onions and the finishing the onions with cumin before adding the stock.

What can I use instead for variety or desperation?

  • Interesting question.... could you perhaps post the full recipe because then we'll know which direction this soup is heading? Thanks!
    – Stephie
    Feb 17, 2015 at 20:09
  • I've had good luck replacing cumin with fresh fine-ground caraway. That's not likely to work in every recipe, but it sounds like it might in yours. Feb 18, 2015 at 0:43
  • Here's the recipe vegangela.com/2013/06/06/easy-lemon-lentil-soup Feb 19, 2015 at 18:37

5 Answers 5


The problem is that a lot of substitutions are based on what you have on hand.

For instance, I have both liquid smoke and smoked paprika, both of which would add that smoky quality that people associate with cumin.

We also need to consider what other ingredients are going into the dish. I have spice blends that contain cumin in varying degrees (garam masala, taco seasoning, a rub for ribs), and if they contain other ingredients that I might be using anyway, I'd consider replacing all of them with the spice blend.

  • With the flavorings including cumin, garlic, onion and crushed red pepper ... I'd use taco seasoning first, the lemon, and then the other seasonings to taste.
    – Joe
    Jan 17, 2017 at 17:44

Chili powder and things like chili or taco spice mixes will normally have cumin as an ingredient. Of course they have other ingredients as well, but they might work well in a lentil soup.


In India, when we make lentils we finish it by tempering with cumin or black mustard seeds. Infact these two are used interchangeably with many other dishes and gives the right kind of flavour required for any such dishes.

Incase you don't have even that on hand, flavour your dish with othe spices like chilli powder and garam masala and it should turn out just fine. Many spice mixes contains cumin powder so if you could get your hand on any of the mixed spice powders, it should do the trick.


Coriander might give you the right general sort of flavor, but I think it's darker and heavier than cumin (I'm struggling to describe this well, obviously). Perhaps mixed with paprika to brighten it up a little?

If you've got some, give it a sniff and see; it might work for the desperation, if nothing else.

  • isn't coriander more cilantro flavored? I personally am having a hard time thinking of a replacement for cumin. It is very distinct.
    – Escoce
    Feb 17, 2015 at 19:25
  • Coriander is the seed of cilantro, but doesn't have the "green" flavor of the herb. (However, it might run into the same "tastes soapy" problem that some people have with cilantro, I don't know.) It's kind of smokey and earthy.
    – Erica
    Feb 17, 2015 at 19:27
  • 2
    Yeah, I'm pretty sure the soapy flavor is only in the herb. (I love cilantro despite being able to taste that flavor somewhat, and I don't taste it in coriander.)
    – Cascabel
    Feb 17, 2015 at 19:36
  • 2
    I have trouble with cilantro. That trouble does not carry over into delicious coriander.
    – Preston
    Feb 18, 2015 at 6:12

My first instinct was curry powder and perhaps some garam masala.

Not really like cumin, but also a classic combination with lentils and onions - an indian twist, so to speak.
(Amp up the heat with chili and top with a dollop of yoghurt, if you like.)

  • Hmm, perhaps combine the coriander from my answer and the curry from yours... Getting there!
    – Erica
    Feb 17, 2015 at 20:24
  • 1
    We could be cooking up something nice, methinks! ^_^
    – Stephie
    Feb 17, 2015 at 20:36
  • Maybe garam masala plus coriander would be a good option. Feb 19, 2015 at 18:39

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