Spice Guide: Cumin

Welcome to the first post in a new series here at ISPP – my Spice Guide! Each month I am going to delve deep into one spice and talk all about its history, flavour profile, uses and more, so we can all get a little more adventurous in the kitchen. I’m kicking things off with one of my most used spices, so here we go with the Spice Guide: Cumin!

Spice Guide: Cumin | I Spy Plum Pie

History of Cumin

Cumin is native to Egypt and has been used in Northern African cuisine for quite literally millennia. It’s mentioned in the bible, was used in the mummification process and was popular in Ancient Greece and Rome as well. It’s sure been around for a while! Traditionally it was used as a herbal medicine, particularly to settle stomachs.

It’s a member of the parsley family and is also closely related to caraway, which it can often be confused for as the seeds look remarkably similar!

Cumin’s Flavour Profile

Cumin has a strong, pungent, musky, earthy profile and is classified as a ‘warm’ flavour. It has a little heat and is slightly nutty and bitter in taste. It is a very aromatic spice, with a spicy-sweet scent. It is a strong flavour so be careful not to be too heavy handed when using it as it can crowd out other flavours. It is an excellent spice to use to provide a little heat to a dish without overpowering it with spiciness, whilst also adding some excellent flavour and depth to your dish.

Common Cuisines

Cumin is most commonly used in Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Spanish and Northern African cuisines. It is a key ingredient in curry pastes, spice mixes (like garam masala), taco seasonings and is also used to smoke meats and flavour some cheeses.

It is commonly used with meats like lamb, fish and goat, as well as to flavour rice, beans, lentils, stews and couscous. It is also an excellent spice for salsas and chutneys and to sprinkle on potatoes or eggplant before roasting. It’s an incredibly versatile spice, that’s for sure.

Spice Guide: Cumin | I Spy Plum Pie

Common Spice Pairings

There are a number of other spices that cumin is often combined with, including:

  • Allspice
  • Bay leaf
  • Cardamom
  • Cayenne
  • Cinnamon
  • Coriander
  • Fenugreek
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Nutmeg
  • Parsley
  • Turmeric

Suggested Recipe

As I mentioned previously, cumin is by far one of the most used spices in my kitchen, which is probably not surprising given how many different cuisines it is a key ingredient of! Be sure to keep your cumin in an air-tight container and try to use it as close to freshly ground as possible to ensure it retains its full flavour. If you’re using whole cumin seeds then give them a quick toast before adding them to your dish, or grinding them yourself, to help release the flavours.

Some of my favourite recipes to add cumin to include my go-to guacamole, homemade dukkah &  all my curries! Another great use of cumin is in homemade taco seasoning, which you can whip up and store in an airtight jar for up to a month, making it perfect for taco Tuesday’s! Here’s an excellent taco seasoning mix to get you started:

  • 3tbs ground cumin
  • 3tbs chilli powder
  • 2tsp paprika
  • 2tsp salt
  • 1tsp garlic powder
  • 1tsp onion powder
  • 1tsp chilli flakes
  • 1tsp dried oregano
  • 1tsp pepper

I hope this Spice Guide: Cumin was useful! Let me know what spices you’d like me to cover in coming editions!

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6 Comments on Spice Guide: Cumin

  1. merilyn
    February 20, 2016 at 7:58 am (8 years ago)

    thankyou liz! … i have a large spice cupboard and I love to use spices too!
    I use cumin a lot and yes it can overpower!
    I have a pre mixed middle eastern spice which I love when in a hurry but I do love to mix my own as well! I think it’s my favourite thing to do in the kitchen! playing! lol m:)X

    • I Spy Plum Pie (admin)
      February 21, 2016 at 3:53 pm (8 years ago)

      Same! I have a few spices that I use far more than others though, so I’m looking forward to having a play with some new ones for this series!

  2. Ingrid @ Fabulous and Fun Life
    February 20, 2016 at 10:50 am (8 years ago)

    I’m not the most adventurous cook and I must admit I’ve always used packet Taco seasoning in the past but with the encouragement of this post I’m going to step out of my comfort zone and try this homemade taco seasoning recipe. The kids love their tacos, lets see if they can pick the difference with my homemade seasoning!

    • I Spy Plum Pie (admin)
      February 21, 2016 at 3:54 pm (8 years ago)

      Oh I’m so glad to hear that Ingrid! They shouldn’t be able to taste too much difference as bought taco seasonings tend to use pretty much the same spices, but normally with lots of salt and some added stabilisers and preservatives. Let me know how you get on!

    • I Spy Plum Pie (admin)
      February 21, 2016 at 3:56 pm (8 years ago)

      Thanks Karin, let me know if there’s any spices in particular you’d like me to cover!


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