Cumin vs. Coriander: What’s the Difference?

by Charlie

Many recipes use cumin and coriander together. These two spices are commonly used in Indian cuisine, that people can’t distinguish what flavor is coming from one and the other. Recipes such as curry list them together. They bring different flavors to your dish.

But can you use only one of them and expect to still get all the flavor profiles that their combination brings out in your food? Some people think so, but these two spices are not the same.

Cumin and coriander come from the same plant family, Apiaceae. While both add intensity or heat to your dish, they flavor food in different ways.

So what’s the difference between cumin and coriander? The main difference between cumin and coriander is the taste. Cumin is bitter, nutty, and spicy, while coriander is sweet, floral, and lemony. Cumin tastes warm, while coriander is lighter on the tongue.

What are Other Differences Between Cumin and Coriander?

There are other differences between cumin and coriander.

Firstly, they are different in form. Cooks generally only buy and use cumin seeds or ground cumin. But they buy and use coriander seeds, ground coriander, coriander flower, and coriander leaves (cilantro). Even the roots are sometimes used for cooking.

Secondly, cumin and coriander smell differently. Cumin is more pungent. It has a very strong smell, while coriander is lightly pungent.

Thirdly, they are different in appearance. Cumin seeds are narrow, flat, and light to medium brown in color. They are shaped like pointed rice grains. On the other hand, coriander seeds are round, large, and light brown to yellow in color.

Fourthly, cumin has more nutrients than coriander. In 1 ounce or 28 grams of serving,

Cumin packs a lot of protein (5 g), Iron (103% DV), Calcium (26%), and Manganese (47% DV). Meanwhile, coriander contains a lot more fiber (11.7 g) and Vitamin C (10% DV) per ounce.

Can You Substitute Cumin for Coriander in Recipes?

No, cumin cannot directly substitute for coriander in recipes. These two blend well when used together in recipes. But using one in place of the other is not recommended. They are different in taste, and you’ll miss out on the flavor you want to bring out of your food. You will end up with a whole different taste on the cooked dish.

But if you don’t mind altering the taste of a recipe, then feel free to use cumin. Keep in mind that your dish will be more spicy and take on a bitter taste. So adjust the amount of cumin if you don’t want it to overpower your dish.

On the flip side, coriander definitely cannot be a good substitute for cumin. It is not spicy nor pungent enough. It will also add a sweet taste to your dish. In place of coriander seeds or ground coriander, it is better to use fresh coriander leaves or cilantro. You may also use basil or parsley. Gram masala has coriander seeds, so you can use it as well.

We should also say that in place of cumin, it is better to use caraway seeds, gram masala, curry powder, or taco seasoning mix. Caraway seeds are nearer to cumin in taste, and the other 3 spices mentioned contain cumin.

When making substitutions, reduce the measurement by half. Then slowly add more as needed.

When Should You Use Cumin?

You can make great-tasting dishes with cumin. Use it for curries, chili, and other Latin American cuisines (tacos, tamales, etc.). Sprinkle some cumin when you want to infuse some smoke and heat to the meal.

Cumin also brings out the richness in your meat and other savory dishes. Use it for your barbecue sauce and other marinades. Make some baked beans or vegetable dishes with it. Season your rice dish with cumin.

This spice is also an essential ingredient in falafel. How about making spice blends? Add some cumin in your homemade gram masala, curry powder, or adobo powder.

When Should You Use Coriander?

Like cumin, you can use coriander for meat and vegetable dishes. Coriander is often used together with cumin. In addition to those types of recipes, you can use coriander in baked pastries and other baked dishes. Many recipes ask for coriander seeds in pickled vegetables and different types of brines.

Can You Use Cumin and Coriander Together?

Yes, in fact, it is always best to use them together. Measure out equal parts and sprinkle them into your recipes. You can make it easy to season your dish by preparing your own cumin-coriander mix.

Here is an easy way to do it:

  1. Measure equal amounts of cumin seeds and coriander seeds.
  2. Lightly toast them in a non-stick fry pan. Do not use oil.
  3. Turn off the heat once their flavor and aroma have been released.
  4. Cool, then grind. Use a food processor or your trusty mortar and pestle.
  5. Store in an airtight container and use as needed. Remember to mix or shake well before using.

Unlike whole seeds that need heating or light toasting before using, ground cumin and ground coriander will immediately add flavor and aroma to your dish anytime. So you can even add them at the end of the cooking time.

Keep in mind though that ground cumin and ground coriander have a limited shelf life. Hence, it’s best to grind a small batch that you intend to use within a week or so.

For substitutions, use 1 ¼ tbs. of ground cumin or coriander for every 1 tbs. of whole cumin or coriander.

Use your cumin-coriander spice blend as meat rubs before you grill them on the barbecue. Add this mix to your stews and soups. Season your roasted vegetable mix with this spice blend.

Make your very own sauce, marinade, dressing, and dip with freshly made ground cumin-coriander. And the best thing yet, sprinkle some of this spice-blend on your hot cocoa or tea!

Final Thoughts

  • Cumin is bitter, nutty, and spicy. Coriander is sweet, floral, and lemony. 
  • Cumin tastes warm, while coriander is lighter on the tongue.
  • Cumin is more pungent in taste and aroma than coriander.
  • Cumin has more nutrients than coriander.
  • Cumin seeds are narrow, flat, and light to medium brown in color.
  • Coriander seeds are round, large, and light brown to yellow in color.

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