Turmeric Vs. Cumin: SPICEography Showdown

Popular curry spices go head-to-head…

Over the past several years, Westerners have begun to sit up and take notice of herbs, spices and seasonings that have been used in other parts of the world for thousands of years. Two spices of particular interest are turmeric and cumin. Ethnic foods like curry dishes continue to rise in popularity, with more and more people cooking up their own homemade curries. Both turmeric and cumin lend their characteristic flavors and heat to these dishes.

However, these spices are getting our attention for more than just their culinary properties. Westerners are becoming more health-conscious than ever and that means looking for better alternatives to treating whatever ails us with the use of drugs. It is for their health benefits more than any other reason that turmeric and cumin are grabbing our attention. At the same time, many people have trouble differentiating certain key points that make these two spices different from one another.

In this SPICEography Showdown, turmeric and cumin go head-to-head so you can find out once and for all just what the differences are and understand more clearly what these spices can offer your health as well as your taste buds!

Do turmeric and cumin have a similar flavor?

While both of these spices are commonly used in a variety of curry dishes, their flavors are more different than they are similar. Cumin has a much stronger flavor. It is sweet yet also pungent and sharp. Turmeric is much milder and able to complement the flavor of a wider variety of foods. Where cumin can easily overpower a dish, turmeric blends more effortlessly. Both spices are warm and earthy, but turmeric is more bitter than sweet.

Do turmeric and cumin look alike?

There’s no need to worry that you may mistake one of these spices for the other! When it comes to appearance, they are very different and easily discernible from one another. Even in ground form, you can easily see the difference. Turmeric is a bright yellow, whereas cumin is an orangish-brown.

In their fresh, unground form, turmeric and cumin differ even more dramatically: Turmeric is a root that looks similar to whole ginger. Fresh cumin is purchased in the form of seeds.

Is one of these spices more readily available than the other?

If you’re looking to purchase either of these spices locally, you will most likely need to find a specialty grocer such as an Asian market that keeps fresh ingredients like these exotic spices regularly in stock.

Almost any local supermarket typically carries cumin seeds as well as ground cumin and turmeric in the spice aisle. Stocking your spice rack should prove an easy task for either one of these, but be sure to plan ahead and find out where you can purchase fresh, whole turmeric root should you have a specific recipe that calls for this ingredient.

As with anything else, you can easily find either one of these spices online in both small quantities and in bulk.

Can turmeric be used as a substitute for cumin? Can cumin substitute for turmeric?

In some recipes, cumin can potentially act as a viable substitute for turmeric. However, it is not recommended. If you’re do happen to find yourself in the midst of an absolute culinary emergency, do a quick taste test with a small amount to ensure that the substitute works well enough for your purposes.

Should the situation be reversed, turmeric is not a spice that can stand in for cumin.

Is cumin as healthy as turmeric?

With the rising interest in natural treatments and health aids, there has been much confusion surrounding these two spices. The reason is actually a simple one; the primary chemical component of turmeric that makes it so healthy is called curcumin. You can easily remember the difference once you are aware that curcumin is found within turmeric and is not—as is a common misconception—the same thing as cumin.

Curcumin does make turmeric an incredibly powerful medicinal spice with a plethora of health benefits. However, cumin is the clear winner when comparing the benefits of these two spices. Cumin is practically bursting with vitamins, minerals and nutrients in addition to containing antioxidants and other properties similar to those of turmeric.

Are turmeric and cumin used in the same types of cuisine?

You will find both of these spices in some curries. For the most part, however, they are typically used for very different types of ethnic cuisines and other foods with differing flavor profiles. In yellow curries and some other traditional Asian dishes, these spices are often found together, complementing the overall dish while lending that heat, pungency and earthiness for which they are known.

Contrary to popular belief, turmeric and cumin are more different than similar. Each of these spices has its own distinct place on your spice rack with its own unique properties. Both cumin and turmeric should be a part of any well-rounded spice rack. And when it comes to your health, you have plenty to gain from both of these exotic spices!