caraway seeds substitute

What Can I Substitute for Caraway Seeds?

If you eat rye bread, you will probably be familiar with the nutty, citrus, and slight licorice notes of caraway seeds. The seeds are used whole or ground in various European cuisines to add flavor to cheese, pastries, cake, stews, meat, sauerkraut, potato, and apple dishes. 

If you are cooking up a storm and realize there are no caraway seeds in the spice rack, we have put together an extensive list of flavorful substitutes to use instead. 

What Are Caraway Seeds?

Caraway seeds are harvested from caraway plants that have an appearance very similar to other plants in the carrot family. The leaves are feathery with fine divisions growing on 8 to 12-inch stems. The main flower stem can grow as tall as 24 inches. 

The small crescent-shaped seeds are around 2mm long but can be ground into a fine powder for cooking as well.

Since it has an anise taste, it is suitable in sweet and savory dishes which makes it a versatile spice to add pizzazz to many dishes.

Best Replacement for Caraway Seeds

Fennel Seeds

The most suitable and most recommended replacement for caraway is fennels seeds. They offer the same licorice flavor notes which is one of the main characteristics you will want to replicate if a similar taste is what you’re after. However, if the licorice taste is what you are trying to avoid, choose another alternative.

This spice has a slightly sweeter flavor than caraway but can be used in sweet and savory applications since the intensity is fairly similar.

Substitute quantity: Do a direct swap, replacing the spices in equal measures.

Best used in: Soup, curry, bread, baked goods, and salad.

See more: Fennel seed alternative

Nigella Seeds

Also called black onion seeds, these are tiny black seeds with a similar size and shape to caraway. They have a herbal flavor with licorice and black pepper notes. These black specs are often sprinkled over savory pastries and bread adding not only flavor but a bit of crunch too.  

Substitute quantity: Replace the spices measure for measure.

Best used in: Naan, curry, bread, sprinkled over savory pastries and bagels, lentil dishes, and pickles.

Anise Seeds

Anise seeds are not to be confused with the spice star anise. Anise seeds may be small, but they have a strong licorice flavor. As with caraway, they are versatile to be used whole or ground, in sweet and savory applications. They do have a stronger taste so if you don’t like the taste of licorice, use with caution or blend it with other spices.

Substitute quantity: Since they have a potent flavor, use only half the amount required in your recipe. If the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of caraway, use only half a tablespoon of anise.

Best used in: soups, stews, braises, bread, salad dressing.

Dill Seed

Dill seeds are commonly used in Eastern European dishes. They have a bright flavor with hints of bitterness, citrus, and licorice. Although they can be used in a variety of dishes, their fresh flavor pairs especially well with salads and dressings.

Substitute quantity: Replace the spices in equal quantities

Best used in: Salad dressings, pickles, soup, and bread

Related: Substitute for dill seed

Mustard Seeds

Mustard seeds look and taste a little different to caraway but can add warm earthiness in similar savory applications. The small, round, dark yellow seeds generally aren’t suitable for desserts, bread, or pastries but are popular in dressings and used as a component in pickling spices.

Substitute quantity: Replace the spices measure for measure.

Best used in: Stews, sauce, pickles, and salad dressing.

Cumin Seeds

Cumin seeds are best when lightly toasted to release their flavorful earthy and aromatic oils. They can also be ground into a powder, which is a more common way to use the spice. With a similar appearance to caraway, they can be used in bread and flatbread, however, they are not suitable for sweet pastries.

Substitute quantity: Replace in equal measures.  

Best used in: Curry, stew, soup, meat dishes, chili, pickles, and rice dishes.

Related: Substitute for cumin powder

Star Anise

This beautiful star-shaped spice is very fragrant with licorice notes, a bit of earthiness, and a touch of bitterness. When used in curries, stews, and mulled wine the spice is cooked whole in the dish to impart flavor and then removed before serving. Biting into a pod will overtake your palette with intense flavor and the bark-like texture is unpleasant to eat. 

However, star anise seeds can also be ground into a fine powder allowing it to blend into the dish completely. Although it is not suitable to use as a coating on bread or in pastry, it can be incorporated into spiced cakes and cookies in its powder form. The spice is mostly used in Middle Eastern and Indian dishes.

Substitute quantity: Since star anise is a powerful spice, use only one-quarter of the amount required in your recipe.

Best used in: Curry, stew, mulled wine, and braises.

Coriander Seeds

Even though coriander seeds don’t look like caraway they offer similar warm, nutty, and earthy flavor undertones with hints of citrus. Lightly toasting and grinding the seeds will allow you to incorporate them into dishes seamlessly. The seeds can be used whole, but not everyone likes crunching down on a seed while eating a curry or stew.

Substitute quantity: Replace the spices in equal quantities. First measure the seeds before toasting and grinding them.

Best used in: Stew, curry, meat dishes, lentil dishes, and soups.

Related: Substitute for coriander

Cloves

Cloves are very powerful and highly fragrant. The flavor is synonymous with the holidays with comforting warmth and earthiness. However, biting into a whole clove is not pleasant so ensure that you strain or remove whole cloves from your dish before serving. Alternatively, ground cloves are also a popular option in both sweet and savory applications. 

Substitute quantity: Use only a quarter of the amount called for in your recipe. If the recipe requires 1 tablespoon of caraway seeds, use only ¼ tablespoon of cloves. After measuring, grind the cloves. If you are using pre-ground cloves, remember that the powdered form will be stronger than whole cloves so you may need even less.

Best used in: Spiced desserts, curry, stew, meat dishes, and sauces.

Related: Replacement for cloves

Dried Oregano

A popular Mediterranean herb, dried oregano, looks and tastes different to caraway. However, its peppery undertones can make it a suitable substitute in savory bread where it is used for flavor rather than appearance. It is also delicious in salad dressings and sauces. It won’t pair well in sweet dishes or curry.

Dried herbs have a more concentrated flavor than fresh herbs, so be careful not to let the herbs overpower other delicate flavors in your recipe.

Substitute quantity: Use only half the amount of oregano. If your recipe requires 2 teaspoons of caraway, use one teaspoon of dried oregano.

Best used in: Salad dressing, sauces, stews, marinades, chicken, lamb, and beef dishes. 

FAQ

What food pairs best with caraway seeds?

The spice goes well with pork, garlic, potato, tomato-based dishes, and cabbage.

Can caraway seeds turn bad?

When stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place the spice will be good for a few years. It will however lose potency over time and is generally best used within 6 months for the best flavor. 

Can caraway seeds be frozen?

Yes, you can freeze the seeds to keep them fresh.

Summary

The spices you choose as a substitute will largely depend on what you are making. Cumin, coriander, and nigella seeds are best for savory applications while fennel seeds and anise can be incorporated into some sweet applications as well.

If you are unsure about how much of your substitute to add, start on the conservative end with a smaller amount and add to taste. This will serve you better than adding too much and overpowering the other flavors in your dish. 

Spices can vary greatly in their strength and may also change slightly on cooking. They are fun to experiment with allowing you to find new flavor sensations you love.

*image by Wirestock/depositphotos

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