Cumin and chili powder are strongly flavored spices used in Latino, Tex-Mex and Indian cuisines. Their flavors are not necessarily interchangeable, however. Cumin provides a distinctive warm, slightly bitter flavor, while chili powder's dominant trait is its burning sensation. You may be able to replace cumin with blended chili powders that also include this spice, but it can affect the overall taste of your recipes.
Cumin is made from the dried fruit of a plant that belongs to the parsley family. It has a noticeable nutty, warm taste with a faintly bitter aftertaste. It is often used in Asian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, as well as in many Mexican and Latino dishes. Cumin comes in three major varieties: white, black and amber, and can be used in the form of whole seeds or as a powder. It loses much of its flavor after six to 12 months.
Blended Chili Powders
In many U.S. supermarkets, "chili" powder refers to a spice blend meant for use in chili. This usually contains garlic, oregano, chili, cumin and other ingredients. According to Big Oven, you can safely substitute blended chili powders directly for cumin at a one-to-one ratio, provided that the recipe already contains similar ingredients. In recipes where the cumin is not accompanied by garlic or chili peppers, use of blended chili powders can affect the flavor.
Pure Chili Powder
Not all spices labeled as chili powder contain cumin. Some are made from pure ground chili peppers, including cayenne and ancho. Most of these chili powders make poor substitutes for cumin. One exception is chipotle powder. This spice is made from smoked ripe japaleno peppers. It has a sweet, smoky flavor that makes it an acceptable substitute in some spicy recipes containing black cumin.
Alternative Cumin Substitutes
Substituting chili powder for cumin can be a problem if your recipe does not call for hot peppers. In these cases, try using ground coriander, which also adds a lemony overtone. Other nonspicy substitutes for cumin include caraway, which provides a mild licorice flavor, and anise. Fennel, another licorice-flavored spice, is sometimes called sweet cumin and can work in some recipes.
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