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Cumin or Caraway?

By March 24, 2008

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I have noticed some confusion in recipes between cumin, black cumin and caraway in some discussion boards. The English word "cumin" is being used for many different spices, which have very unique taste profiles.

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum) is a relative of fennel and caraway but has a slightly bitter taste, and is often seen in curries and Mexican dishes, but also in some cheeses and as an herb in some digestive schnapps. Germans call this seed "Kreuzkümmel".

"Kümmel" should be translated as caraway (Carum carvi). It is more common in the German kitchen than cumin and is used in sauerkraut, breads, cheeses and many other dishes. It seems to help in digestion and has a mild dill/parsley taste.

Black cumin ( Nigella sativa) is often called black onion seed or "Schwarzkümmel" and is more closely related to the buttercup family of plants. It looks like black sesame seeds and is often found on top of "Fladenbrot" a type of flat bread, which is sold all over Germany in Turkish markets.

Another black cumin, Bunium persicum, is used in Middle Eastern and Indian dishes. It is crescent shaped, dark brown and in the same family as cumin and caraway.

Both "black cumin" seeds have medicinal properties attributed to them, and most of the spices in the dill/fennel/caraway family are seen as digestive aids in folklore.

Photo of Baked Potatoes with Caraway, copyright J.McGavin


May 14, 2010 at 6:23 am
(1) Duncan says:

Thank you so much for clearing this up.

July 8, 2010 at 2:11 am
(2) Lloyd says:

Thank you so much – you’ve been quite helpful!

October 6, 2010 at 4:32 pm
(3) Dan Stine says:

It’s the same in Czech. Kmin represents both cumin and caraway. A bit annoying as i’ve been putting lots of caraway in my tex-mex chili and wondering about the flavor not being right. Can’t find real cumin. Thanks for your help.

September 30, 2011 at 4:03 pm
(4) Veronika V says:

Hi Dan, it is possible to find the real cumin even in Czech stores. Ask for ”kmín římskı”. It is possible to get it e.g. in stores with organic food (e.g. manufactured by Sonnentor).

August 18, 2013 at 5:21 pm
(5) nav says:


didnt realise there was a variation of cumin, was making samosas with my norwegian gf and we got the wrong “minty” cumin which ruined them completely, is it just me or is it annoying how all packs are labelled cumin when actually it should be called carraway seeds.

September 19, 2013 at 9:37 am
(6) Martina says:

Oh brilliant! Thank you for clarification. I was arguing with my boyfriend that we should use ‘cumin’ (in UK) for ‘kmin’ but he insisted on caraway. Guess I lost… but at least know how to get the right taste, thank you :)

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