Cumin is an earthy spice that most likely originated in the Middle East but it is most closely associated with Indian and Latin American cuisines. Many of the best-known uses from it come from one or the other of these food cultures. Here is a look at some of the classic best cumin uses.
In homemade curry powder
Cumin is essential for Indian cooking in general and it is used in a wide range of Indian and Indian-inspired dishes. It is a key ingredient in curry powder, which was actually created by merchants to market Indian spices to U.K. consumers. Along with cumin, a traditional curry powder will include a healthy portion of turmeric along with fenugreek and coriander seed. Cumin adds warmth, earthiness and slight bitterness to curry powder.
In garam masala
Unlike curry powder, garam masala is Indian in that it has long been a staple ingredient in Indian cuisine. In fact, it may have been the spice blend that the English were trying to imitate when they came up with curry powder. Keep in mind that there is no one garam masala spice blend. The recipes differ according to region and sometimes personal taste as well.
Garam masala is generally sweeter than curry powder but contains various warm spices, which includes cumin. The cumin acts as a savory balance to the cinnamon and fennel seed that will show up in most blends.
There are few food items more Indian than chutney and cumin is a common ingredient in some chutneys. Chutneys are condiments that can offer a range of flavors to food including sweetness, tartness and fruitiness. The earthy bitterness of cumin can help to enhance those flavors.
In a dry rub
Cumin works well with many other spices, which is why it is such a key ingredient in curry powder. It is a popular addition to American-style dry rubs as well. It’s great on most meats including chicken and pork but it is especially good on lamb.
Cumin is a traditional lamb rub ingredient in the Middle East and is commonly included in spice blends like baharat. Its pungent warmth can help to counteract the gamey qualities that you can get from lamb. Use it on lamb whether you intend to smoke it on a grill or roast it in your oven.
In chili powder
Chili powder consists of powdered chili peppers (usually ancho chilies), cumin, and oregano. It’s an American spice blend made of the spices used for Mexican cuisine, in much the same way that curry powder was an attempt to capture Indian flavors.
Cumin is one of the main spices in Mexican food. Chili powder has a strong savory flavor profile with warmth and nuttiness from the cumin along with a little fruitiness from the chilies themselves.
In taco seasoning
Cumin is one of the main spices in most taco seasoning blends. Taco seasoning consists of the spices most commonly used to flavor taco meat. Cumin provides the pungent background of the blend and helps to build its intense umami character. There is no one authentic taco seasoning mix, but cumin should be among your ingredients if you want a taco that is as authentic-tasting as possible.