What To Look For
Whole cumin is often mistaken for caraway as it looks almost identical. However, the taste is completely different. Cumin is sold whole and ground, and either have different applications in recipes. Whole cumin has a much longer shelf life than the ground powder. Like all spices, cumin should be store in an airtight container in a cool, dark space.
How To Use It
Cumin (whole and ground) is often roasted to identify its flavor. This is especially true for Indian cooking where cumin is an essential ingredient in many savory dishes. Indian cooks typically roast cumin in ghee (clarified butter), sometimes together with onions, before other ingredients are added.
Indian garam masala, sambar podi (which us used to flavor lentil and vegetable curries), curry powder, and the Bengali spice mix pach phoron all contain cumin. Cumin is a main ingredient in tandoori dishes, as well as in Sri Lankan curries where it is often combined with coriander, cinnamon, and other spices.
Cumin is also very popular in Arabic cooking, especially in the cuisines of Northern Africa where it us used to flavor meats and vegetables steamed in clay pots (tagine), hummus (chickpea and sesame puree), and fried chickpea patties (falafel). It also found its way into several spice mixes, such as the Saudi Arabian baharat and Yemen’s zhoug.
In Mexico, ground cumin is used along oregano, onions, garlic, paprika, and chilies to flavor various chili dishes with meat and or beans.
In Europe, cumin is used to lend its characteristic taste to some types of cheeses made in Holland and France.