There is nothing worse than diving headfirst into a recipe only to notice too late that you are out of a key ingredient. This conundrum is even more obnoxious when the ingredient you are missing is tough to substitute.
Caraway is one of those types of ingredients.
But before you toss that rye dough or scrap your Middle Eastern-inspired dinner, read this. More than likely, you have one of these substitutes for caraway seeds in your spice rack right now.
What Is Caraway?
Caraway seed is known by many names, including meridian fennel and Persian cumin. Like cumin and fennel, this plant is part of the carrot family.
Caraway seeds are actually the dried fruit of the plant and have historically been used in European, African, and Middle Eastern cuisine. Some of the most popular caraway-containing dishes are rye bread, sauerkraut, and goulash.
What Is the Main Flavor of Caraway Seeds?
Caraway seeds have a very unique flavor, which is why they are so difficult to substitute.
High concentrations of naturally occurring essential oils bring undertones of licorice that are offset by a milder, nutty bittersweetness. Hints of pepper and citrus round out this complex flavor profile and further dull that anise-like licorice taste.
Best Substitutes for Caraway Seeds
Due to its similar shape, many people reach for celery seed as a substitute for caraway, but the flavor profile of these two herbs is completely different. Cumin, a fellow member of the carrot family, is another popular but poor caraway substitute.
If you are out of caraway and in the midst of a recipe that calls for this uncommon spice, you are much better off reaching for one of these substitutes instead.
1. Fennel Seed
Fennel seeds have a mild licorice flavor similar to caraway. They are also aromatic and bursting with flavor. Though, most people find the flavor warmer and sweeter than caraway.
The fennel plant is also a member of the carrot family. These seeds, which are popular in dishes around the world, are actually the dried fruit of the plant. Like many other members of the carrot family, fennel contains an aromatic compound called anethole, which gives it its licorice taste.
For recipes that benefit from the delicate anise-like flavor of caraway but would be overwhelmed by too much licorice, fennel seed is your best bet. Use this substitute at a one-to-one ratio.
Aniseed, also known as anise or anix, is another plant in the carrot family. The dried fruits are harvested and used in many licorice-heavy candies, drinks, and desserts. In many cultures, teas or sweets made with anise are used as a digestive after meals.
This herb has a sweeter flavor than caraway and a much more intense licorice taste. It lacks the aromatic range of caraway and the delicate flavor profile. It is not a great substitute if the dish you’re making is on the savory end of the spectrum or would be easily overwhelmed by licorice.
But, in a punch, anise can be used as a caraway substitute, especially in sweeter dishes and drinks. Start with half the amount called for in the recipe and adjust as needed.
3. Dill Seed
If licorice flavor is only meant to be a secondary actor in your meal, then dill may be the better choice for substituting. This herb features the citrus flavors other caraway substitutes lack. It has some mild licorice undertones, too, but a slightly grassier taste than other options listed here.
Dill is milder than caraway, but if it’s all you have on hand, it will suffice in savory recipes. You may even try adding dill to your fennel and use both in place of caraway. The fennel will bring the intense licorice notes while the dill fills out the missing citrus aspect.
4. Star Anise
Despite the similar name, star anise is not related to aniseed or any other herb on this list. These star-shaped fruits are harvested from Illicium verum, a type of evergreen tree native to Asia.
One thing this spice does have in common with some members of the carrot family, however, is anethole. Like aniseed, this spice has a strong licorice flavor and is often used as a cheap substitute for aniseed in the mass production of licorice candy and certain liqueurs.
Also like aniseed, it can be used as a caraway seed substitute in a pinch. It has a sweet flavor and is best used in desserts and sweet drinks. Start with about one-quarter of the quantity called for in the recipe and adjust as needed.
A close relative to caraway is coriander. In terms of flavor, this common spice sits somewhere between fennel and cumin. It has a tartness that stands in well for caraway’s citrus taste and an earthiness that emulates its nuttiness. What coriander can’t quite replicate is the liquorice flavor, but it does have some nice floral notes that will work in certain dishes.
If you have a recipe that doesn’t rely on caraway’s anise taste, then coriander is an optimal substitute. If the liquorice taste plays a roll, try mixing a dash of fennel in to capture that end of the taste spectrum.
About the Author
Sara Seitz is a freelance writer living with type 1 diabetes. Her search for better health and better control of her blood sugars led her to a plant-based diet. When she isn’t experimenting with new vegan recipes, she’s helping spread the word about how plant-based is better for people and the planet. More articles by Sara.