Can I use cumin instead of curry powder? (3+ alternatives)

In this article, we answered the following question: Can I use cumin instead of curry powder?  We discuss the differences between cumin and curry powder, how to use cumin in the kitchen, and the best alternatives for curry powder. 

Can I use cumin instead of curry powder?    

You can use cumin instead of curry powder, but the taste of the food will be different because curry powder is a mixture of several spices, while cumin is a single ingredient. Cumin has a scent with warm and heady notes, with a pronounced, spicy, very aromatic, and subtly bitter taste, reminiscent of both fennel and anise.

Curry powder contains numerous spices, such as turmeric, cumin seeds, white pepper, black pepper, and salt. Most recipes include coriander, fenugreek, and chili peppers. Depending on origin, additional condiments such as ginger, garlic, asafetida, fennel seed, caraway, cinnamon, clove, mustard seed, green cardamom, black cardamom, nutmeg, red pepper, and black pepper can also be added. Chemical studies conducted on some of these ingredients have led to the identification of metabolites such as curcumin, piperine, and capsaicin (2).

Therefore, our advice would be to mix cumin with other ingredients you have at home such as pepper and salt, to get a little closer to the aroma that curry powder would give to the dish.

The major global suppliers of medicinal plants, spices, and herbs are China, India, Canada, the U.S., and Germany, accounting for 60% of global export values, whereas, the U.S. and Germany, followed by China, Japan, and Singapore, are the major importers, accounting for 50% of global import values. Global imports of medicinal plants in 2016 had an average value of US$ 2.9 billion for 660,261 metric tons (MT) and exports were valued at US $ 3 billion for 537,149 MT (1).

The differences between cumin and curry powder

Cumin is an oriental plant used in cooking as a spice. Similar to parsley, when dried, cumin gives this fine and elongated brown or green spice. With a bitter, spicy, and aromatic taste, cumin is the only consumable part of the plant from which it comes. 

In addition to its culinary use, cumin is used against the inconvenience of digestion (3). In pregnant women, lactation can also be stimulated by the virtues of cumin seeds.

It is rich in iron and thus very good for lactating mothers as well as women who are undergoing menses or who are pregnant, since they are more in need of iron than others. Iron is particularly important for menstruating women, who lose iron during menses. Moreover, cumin is said to help ease and increase secretion of milk in lactating women due to presence of thymol, which tends to increase secretions from glands, including milk which is a secretion from mammary glands (4).

Cumin is one of the many spices used to prepare a mixture of spices such as curry, chili, or Indian masala in cooking. In seeds or powders, cumin is used to enhance the taste of dishes prepared in the kitchen such as tagines and couscous in Morocco, chili in South America, edam and gouda cheese in the Netherlands. 

Cumin is a spice that comes in the form of dried seeds, with a light brown color. It is known thanks to its smell, which is a little heady. Its taste is rather bitter and aromatic. It is then interesting to know that its use remains subtle because cumin has the power to cover the taste of cooked products. It should therefore be used with caution and moderation.

Over time, cumin has become an important spice. We find it in all kitchens worldwide!

Much of the flavor of curry powder comes from fenugreek, cumin, and other spices used in the mixture. In contrast, garam masala is made entirely of hot spices and therefore has a more pronounced taste.  

There are three main types of curry (5):

Green curry – contains fresh coriander leaves but also green hot peppers;

Yellow curry – has as main ingredient turmeric but also specifically Indian spices. The taste of coriander is much more pronounced than in other varieties of curry. Also, this assortment is the only one that does not contain shrimp paste. Thais often use it in chicken dishes. A delicious combination!

Red curry – has a pronounced hot taste due to the coriander it has in its composition.

Red curry paste is an indispensable ingredient in Thai cuisine. It has a spicy and aromatic taste, and we find it in different dishes based on vegetables and lamb or chicken, but also delicious seafood.

How to use cumin in the kitchen

First, cumin is used mainly in spice blends like curry, chili con carne, ras el hanout, tagine, Mexican couscous, and garam masala.

As for your recipes, you can include it raw or fully cooked at any time during your preparation. It goes well with turmeric, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, thyme, oregano, and anise. It goes very well with fish, or even lamb, chicken, and vegetables, sauces, and soups.

This goes perfectly with cheeses, especially Dutch cheeses, such as Edam or Gouda. You can also consume it in herbal teas or infusions, alone or in a mixture. It, therefore, offers multiple possibilities!         

There are two kinds of cumin:

Seed: The advantage is that it retains the flavor of cumin longer. They are rather intense, bitter with a sharp taste.

Powder: Practical, but it keeps its flavors for less.

This is why it is best to use it as a seed or grind the seeds yourself into powder. 

The best alternatives for curry powder

Curry is a spice made with the combination of other spices; if you want to prepare it in a homemade way, combine a little cumin, ground red pepper, ginger, ground coriander, and turmeric, you will notice no difference.

Other easy to prepare alternatives for curry powder:

Allspice and Cumin: – To make this garam masala and curry paste substitute, just mix 1 part cumin with ¼ of allspice. This relationship will create a delightful flavor for whatever dish you are preparing.

A special mix of 3 parts cilantro and cinnamon, 1 part cumin and cloves, and ½ part cardamom and pepper.

Chaat Masala: – Chaat masala is an Indian refreshing spice mix. Click here for the recipe. 

Other FAQs about Curry that you may be interested in.

What does Thai green curry sauce taste like?

What can I substitute for coconut milk in curry?

Differences Between Indian and Thai Curry


In this article, we answer the following question: Can I use cumin instead of curry powder? We discussed the differences between cumin and curry powder, how to use cumin in the kitchen, and the best alternatives for curry powder. 

Using cumin instead of curry powder is indeed an option, but the best is to mix the cumin with other common spices such as black pepper, coriander, ginger, and turmeric.

If you have any questions or comments on the content, please let us know!


  1. Nguyen, Ly, Lam T. Duong, and Rao S. Mentreddy. The US import demand for spices and herbs by differentiated sources. J Appl Res Medic Arom Plants, 2019, 12, 13-20.
  2. Sandjo, Louis P., et al. Cytotoxicity, antiprotozoal, and anti‐inflammatory activities of eight curry powders and comparison of their UPLC‐ESI‐QTOF‐MS chemical profiles. J Sci Food Agri, 2019, 99, 2987-2997.
  3. Peter, Kuruppacharil V., ed. Handbook of herbs and spices: volume 3. Woodhead publishing, 2006.  
  4. Singh, Rudra Pratap, H. V. Gangadharappa, and K. Mruthunjaya. Cuminum cyminum–A popular spice: An updated review. Pharmacog J, 2017, 9.  
  5. Kanchanakunjara, Taddara, et al. Traditional curry pastes during Sukhothai to Ratthanakosin: The subjective experience of the past and present. Asian Cult Hist, 2015, 7, 175.