I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of carom seeds substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or seeking an alternative tailored to your specific dietary requirements, rest assured that I’ve got you covered.
The best substitutes for carom seeds is a mixture of dried oregano and black pepper, or dried thyme. You can also try dried fennel, Nigella seeds, cumin seeds, or caraway seeds. The taste of these seeds won’t match carom seeds flavor, but they’ll bring a similar depth of flavor.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made parathas to try out different carom seed substitutes.
Carom seeds (also know as ajwain) are a staple in Indian cooking.
Despite the name, they’re are actually fruits that resemble seeds. They have an earthy, slightly bitter taste with hints of mint, licorice, and cumin.
I was looking for a substitutes that shared a similar flavor profile with the seeds. This proved hard to find because they have such a unique taste!
But I did find lots of subs that brought a similar vibe to my parathas.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|How to Substitute
|Dried oregano + black pepper
|1 tsp carom seeds = ½ tsp oregano + ¼ tsp black pepper
|1 tsp carom seeds = 1 ¼ tsp dried thyme
|Replace in a 1:1 ratio
|1 tsp carom seeds = ¾ tsp fennel seeds
|Replace in a 1:1 ratio
|1 tsp carom seeds = ¾ tsp caraway seeds
|Replace in a 1:1 ratio
Remember, you can always add spices by you can’t take them out.
Add your substitute cautiously, tasting as you go.
Common uses for carom seeds and the best substitutes
Here are some popular ways to use carom seeds and the best substitutes for those situations:
- For spice blends: Try using dried oregano mix with black pepper, or dried thyme. Or pick one of the other subs that best compliments the flavor profile of your dish.
- For baked goods and flatbreads: Try using fennel seeds, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or Nigella seeds. Nigella seeds are great for giving your baked goods a unique look.
- For soups, stews, and curries: Try using dried oregano + black pepper, dried thyme, or dried sage. Avoid Nigella seeds for this application, they’re not ideal for cooking with.
- For pickles and chutneys: Try using fennel seeds, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or Nigella seeds.
Dried oregano + black pepper
A mixture of dried oregano and black pepper is the closest you’ll get to carom seeds’ unique flavor profile (Mexican oregano is best if you can find it).
This mix offers a slightly bitter taste with a dash of earthiness and refreshing minty notes that keep things light.
If you have anise, you can also add this to get some lovely liquorice notes. Or experiment with adding celery seeds.
The aroma of this mix is also strikingly similar to carom seeds, so hopefully no one will be able to tell the difference!
How to substitute: 1 tsp carom seeds = ½ tsp oregano + ¼ tsp black pepper (Mexican oregano is very potent).
If you don’t want to mess around making a spice mix, you can simply swap the carom seeds for dried thyme.
Thyme contains a compound called thymol, which also found in caraway seeds so they have similar base notes.
And just like carom seeds, dried thyme can withstand long cooking times – in fact, it’s better if you add it to your dish earlier. Adding it too late to your dish can result in a prominent bitter flavor.
Psst… I grow thyme in my backyard and dry it myself. Check out Alpha Foodie’s guide, which features three different drying methods.
How to substitute: 1 tsp carom seeds = 1 ¼ tsp dried thyme
Dried sage may not be an exact flavor match for carom seeds, but it’s got your back in a pinch.
Its earthy flavor, with hints of citrus, will add an extra dimension to your dishes.
And just like carom seeds, dried sage has a strong smell so your kitchen will smell delicious.
Dried sage isn’t a common ingredient in Indian cuisine, but it tasted great in my parathas and went really well with the curry I also served.
Pro tip: I also added a pinch of cumin to add more depth.
How to substitute: Replace carom seeds in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with crushed dried sage.
Fennel seeds are a bit sweeter than carom seeds, but they share that lovely liquorice flavor.
To get the most out of this fantastic sub, it’s a good idea to crush them before using to release all their flavors.
I also took the extra step of toasting them before mixing them in my paratha dough, and this really elevated this humble flatbread.
Psst… just like carom seeds, fennel seeds are rich in antioxidants which are always good to add to our diets.
How to substitute: 1 tsp carom seeds = ¾ tsp fennel seeds
In a pinch and need a replacement for carom seeds? Look no further than cumin seeds.
They have a warm, nutty flavor, making them a great addition to bread, rice dishes, and curries. But the flavor they added to my paratha was definitely milder than the flavor of carom seeds.
Bonus – they’re also great for aiding digestion!
If you want to take the cumin seeds flavor closer to carom seeds, mix them with a dash of oregano.
How to substitute: 1 tsp carom seeds = 1 tsp cumin seeds
Caraway seeds look exactly the same as carom seeds but flavor-wise they differ quite a lot.
Caraway seeds have a more peppery taste than carom seeds, with a nice hint of citrus at the end.
After experimenting with this substitute, I found they added warmth and depth to my parathas. But don’t use them expecting your dish to taste the same because you’ll be disappointed.
How to substitute: 1 tsp carom seeds = ¾ tsp caraway seeds
Nigella seeds are tiny black seeds that pack a real punch.
They boast similar herby notes and a slight bitterness that mimics carom seeds’ flavor profile.
My friend described them as having a ‘toasted onion’ flavor, which I thought was a nice way of putting it.
They gave my paratha a deliciously herby flavor, as well as a cool look!
How to substitute: replace carom seeds in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with nigella seeds.
Other substitutes to consider
The previously mentioned substitutes are my top picks for carom seeds alternatives, but here are other options you can use:
- Lovage seeds – these seeds belong to the same plant family as Carom seeds and have similar aniseed notes. The downside is they can be very difficult to find!
- Dill seeds – these look similar and belong to the same family as carom seeds but actually taste more like caraway seeds. So again, you can use them as long as you don’t expect an exact flavor match!
- Dried marjoram – I think this is better suited as an alternative for thyme, with its earthy, woody notes and a citrusy twist. But if you’re in a pinch and it’s the only thing you have it won’t ruin your dish.
Substitutes to avoid
I came across these suggestions while researching and so I included them in my experiment.
But after the test, I don’t recommend using them as an alternative for carom seeds.
- Taco seasoning – this is delicious but tastes and looks nothing like carom seeds. Taco seasoning has a savory flavor with a spicy kick that will clash with other flavors usually paired with carom seeds.
- Star anise – this has a more prominent liquorice flavor than carom seeds and can easily overpower your dish alone.
10 BEST Carom Seeds Substitutes + 2 To Avoid
- 1 tsp dried oregano + black pepper + celery seeds mixture
- 1 ¼ tsp dried thyme
- 1 tsp crushed dried sage
- ¾ tsp fennel seeds
- ¾ tsp cumin seeds
- ¾ tsp caraway seeds
- 1 tsp Nigella seeds
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen carom seeds substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe