Cumin is an extremely assertive spice. In other words, it can quickly obliterate the other flavors in a dish if you use too much of it. Whether you are using whole cumin seeds or ground cumin, adding too much can render your dish unpalatable. If this has happened to you, do not panic. You have several options for rescuing your meal.
Double the other ingredients
You can dilute the cumin flavor by multiplying everything else. This will increase the cost of your meal, but keep you from having to discard the food with too much of the spice. Alternatively, you can remove half of the food you have already cooked and add more ingredients to make it up to the required quantity. Be careful when adding liquids as it is possible to dilute your dish with too much. For example, too large an amount of stock to a soup can water it down.
Sweeten the dish
One of cumin’s characteristics is its bitterness. By countering its bitter notes, you can reduce much of the harshness and make a dish palatable again. Your sweetener can range from sugar to agave nectar depending on what you are cooking. For some dishes, honey might be the best choice; in others, you may want to opt for maple syrup or even fruit. Dried fruit is an option that works well in many curries. When attempting to balance flavors, start with a little and add your sweetener in small increments until you achieve the desired flavor profile.
Add a spice to counter the cumin
One of the antidotes for excessive cumin is nutmeg. It is particularly effective at distracting from the flavor. Of course, nutmeg may not be a good complement to all dishes. Another way to accomplish the same thing is to use cinnamon, which works particularly well in chili. Cinnamon adds a sweetness that distracts from cumin’s bitterness.
Tart elements can give a spark to the dish, countering the salt and neutralizing some of your excess cumin. Tart ingredients that can work in most recipes include vinegar or lime juice. In a curry, you may want to use tamarind. Tamarind adds acid without drawing too much attention to itself. When adding an acidic element, do not lose sight of the desired flavor profile for your dish. Be careful with how much you add since it is possible to go overboard with this flavor as well.
Add some salt
Salt can do a good job of counteracting the bitterness that cumin gives. In moderation, it can also heighten the other flavors so that they come together in a more balanced way. If you want additional flavor complexity, add a salty ingredient instead of regular table salt. Soy sauce, miso or bacon can usually work in dishes that require cumin.
Add some fat
Fatty ingredients are often effective for toning spice down. You can use coconut milk, butter or cream depending on your dish. Cumin pairs well with a variety of fatty ingredients ranging from avocados to lard. Of course, you will want to choose the fatty ingredients that complement your dish. Coconut milk is an excellent complement for most curries and you can serve your chili with a dollop of sour cream on top.