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Oct 3, 2007 05:05 PM

Tumeric vs. cumin

There's a small discount sundries place (9 East 39th in NYC, if you're in the neighborhood) that by some fluke, has a few Spice Island spices on sale. They don't have curry powder - I use small amounts of mild curry as a sort of enhancer - but they do have tumeric and cumin, which I know are used in curry.

Can I use either one of them instead of buying the usual curry blend? I have no idea what they taste like separately.

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  1. Turmeric has hardly any taste, but is used mainly to give a nice color to curry dishes. Cumin, however, is a wonderful, highly tasty and aromatic spice. It is sometimes used in curry powder blends. Cumin is also used in Mexican and North African (Moroccan, etc.) cooking.

    1. You can't use just one as a substitute. I think cumin is a little more friendly on its own, but if they are on sale, buy both and experiment. Cumin is great in mexican food as well as curries. Turmeric I find a little musty, i think frequently it is used mostly for color.

      1. curry (Madras< which is the common type usually sold in groceries) is a blend of cumin, tumeric, coriander, fenugreek, cardamom, ginger, garlic, mustard and cayenne, in varying amounts. The color comes primarily from the tumeric, which has little flavor, the coriander and the cayenne, or paprika, which will be used sometimes. you can play with these and try adding some otf the spices which are used in garam masala, including cinnamon, nutmeg allspice and some of the above spices in the Madras. It's fun, especially if you try the whole spices and toast and grind them yourself.

        1. if you were to buy 1, pick the cumin. i put it in EVERYTHING savory that doesn't have much going for it on its own like (non green veggies) - every meat, eggs, soup, potatoes, cabbage (even every cole slaw i make), carrots.. yum. great in cottage cheese, sour cream or yogurt + cumin make a great dip. all in all, lovely. cumin+cinnamon = heaven.

          5 Replies
            1. re: reannd

              Disagree - personally I think cumin used in foods that aren't being cooked is a little bit armpit-like. However, when using it in cooking and braising and sauteeing and roasting and grilling......etc etc......... it is delicious and imparts a great flavor.

              1. re: laurendlewis

                I wouldn't go so far as to say "armpit-like," but it does have a strong, smoky flavor that can take over if not used judiciously. I came across a caterer's cheat sheet that said adding cumin to a dish automatically makes it taste "exotic" to most Americans, which I've found to be generally accurate.

                1. re: laurendlewis

                  My Indian style raitta, a yogurt based dip, is usually made with curmin, preferably freshly toasted and ground seeds. Fennel seeds are an alternative that some might like better.


                  1. re: laurendlewis

                    That's funny, Diana Kennedy says too much cumin tastes like sweat.

                    I personally love cumin and salmon together. I had a cumin-seed crusted salmon en croute in Paris that I still think about fondly. I've had good success bathing salmon in olive oil and cumin seeds and grilling it on a cedar plank. Cumin is also nice with baby turnips, cooked in a light tomato sauce.

                    I would agree that cumin is the more adaptable spice. Too much tumeric can give things a bitter taste, which in some recipes may be the objective.

                2. cumin is also the common ingredient (with red pepper) between curry and chili powder, and a strong component of the taste of both.