Cumin vs Turmeric

By | December 21, 2019

They are both often found in various curry dishes and mixes all around the world – but it does not mean that they are the same. Cumin and turmeric are two kinds of spices loaded with powerful vitamins and health benefits. Cumin does get confused a lot with ‘curcumin’, which is an active ingredient found in turmeric. Nevertheless, they do have a number of differences that set them apart. Continue reading below to understand the differences between cumin vs turmeric!

What is Cumin?

Cumin is the name of a flowering plant native to the east Mediterranean and South Asia. It has a species name of Cuminumcyminum, and it belongs to the family Apiaceae. However, when talking about the spice used in cooking, cumin usually refers to the dried seed of the plant. See also: Curcumin vs Cumin.

One cumin seed is contained within a fruit. In order to retrieve the seed, the fruit is usually dried. Afterwards, the collected cumin seeds may be used in the whole form or crushed into a ground form, according to the need. As a traditional medicinal plant, cumin has a lot of uses. It is also used in many cuisines around the world, including in South Asian, French, and Mexican cuisines.

What is Turmeric?

Cumin vs turmeric are different plants that belong to different families. Unlike cumin, turmeric is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant which belongs to the ginger family Zingiberaceae. It is native to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. It requires a significant amount of annual rainfall and temperatures between 20 – 30 degrees Celsius to thrive.

It is the plant’s rhizomes that are usually used for cooking and traditional medicine. It may be used fresh, but the most common form of turmeric is the deep-orange-yellow powder which is acquired by boiling the rhizomes in water for 30 – 45 minutes followed by drying in hot ovens and grinding. Turmeric is found in Asian cuisines, most particularly for curries. It is also sometimes used as a natural dyeing agent.

Different Aroma and Flavor

Although cumin and turmeric are often found in the same curry dishes, they do have very different aromas and flavors. Cumin features a much stronger flavor that is sweet and pungent and sharp at the same time. It has a warm aroma which comes from the essential oil content. Because of the strong profile, cumin can easily overpower in a dish. Hence, it should be used sparingly.

On the other hand, turmeric has a much milder flavor. The aroma is earthy and mustard-like, whereas the flavor is warm and bitter. It is almost like pepper. Due to the milder profile, turmeric can easily complement the flavors of other ingredients without overpowering them.

How They Look

A novice cook who just gets into the world of cooking may get confused with all the many names of spices and herbs, so let’s see the differences between cumin vs turmeric in terms of appearance so that you won’t buy the wrong thing the next time you go to the store. That said, there are almost zero chances that you will mistake these spices if you know what you are looking for.

In the ground form, the easiest way to distinguish cumin and turmeric is the color. Cumin has a brown color with just a slight tint of orange. On the other hand, turmeric is bright orange or yellow.

In the fresh, unground form, cumin and turmeric become much easier to tell apart. Fresh cumin seeds are black or brown elongated seeds with vertical stripes. On the other hand, turmeric rhizomes are roots that look like whole ginger.

Health Benefits

Both cumin and turmeric come with many vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. They both have good health benefits. They both are good ingredients for a healthy diet. However, cumin is generally richer with more vitamins, minerals, and nutrients while having similar antioxidants and health benefits as turmeric.

On the other hand, the primary active chemical component of turmeric that makes it healthy is curcumin. It has been used as a traditional medicine, but scientific studies have failed to prove its benefits due to the low stability and low bioavailability. It is considered not potent for drug development.

Uses in Cuisines

You can find both cumin vs turmeric in various curries, especially those of Asian cuisines. However, cumin is used in more cuisines around the world. For example, cumin is used in the making of Leyden cheese, some traditional French breads, and Mexican-style chili powder. Cumin is also used in adobo and sofrito of Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian cuisines.

On the other hand, turmeric is mainly used in Asian cuisines (especially in Vietnam, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, and Thailand) and some Middle Eastern cooking. Some East Asian pickles contain chunks of soft turmeric that are made from fresh turmeric rhizomes. It may also be used to make a hot drink called “golden milk” or “turmeric latte”. Iranian khoresh dishes involve the use of onions that are caramelized in oil and turmeric.

Are They Interchangeable?

In most cases, no. Cumin and turmeric are not really interchangeable. However, there are some recipes that may allow cumin as a substitute for turmeric. This is generally not recommended since cumin is much stronger, but it can be a viable solution in an absolute culinary emergency. Just make sure that you add the cumin in a much smaller amount, and try to perform a quick test with a small amount of the dish to see if the substitution will work well or not.

On the other hand, though, turmeric is not able to substitute cumin. The flavor is very different and much milder. It will not work even if you increase the amount.

- A flowering plant native to the east Mediterranean and South Asia- A rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant native to Southeast Asia and the India subcontinent
- The whole form is elongated brown/black seeds with stripes; the ground form is brown with a slight orange tint- The whole form is ginger-like rhizomes; the ground form is bright orange/yellow
- Much stronger flavor that is sweet and pungent- Much milder flavor which is warm and bitter
- Has richer vitamins and minerals- Relatively low in vitamins and minerals
- Used in many cuisines around the world- Used mainly in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines


Cumin and turmeric are often found in curries and Asian cuisines, but they are very different. Cumin powder is brown with a slight orange tint, whereas unground cumin seeds are brown/black with an elongated shape. Cumin has a much stronger flavor that is sweet and pungent with a warm aroma. Cumin is richer in nutrients and is used in more cuisines around the world. On the other hand, turmeric powder is bright orange or yellow, and unground turmeric rhizomes look like whole ginger. Turmeric has a milder flavor that is warm and bitter. Turmeric is mainly used in Asian and Middle Eastern cooking.

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