Know Your Spices: Caraway

Caraway is a versatile, aromatic spice with sharp notes of licorice and warm citrus. Traditionally, caraway plays a starring role in sauteed cabbage, sauerkraut, and rye bread.

Caraway seeds in a white bowl

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Caraway is a lesser-known (but equally tasty!) spice native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. Caraway's quintessential, slightly lemony, spicy, licorice-like flavor is hard to miss.

In this guide, we will explore all of the ins and outs of this unique spice.

What is Caraway?

Contrary to popular belief, caraway "seeds" are actually dried fruits. For the remainder of this article, we will refer to caraway dried fruits as "seeds" since that is the more common name for them. Caraway seeds can be used whole or ground up to flavor a dish. Some cultures even use the leaves of the caraway plant for a garnish or base of a soup.

Many European and Middle Eastern cuisines cook with caraway in unique ways. For example, harissa, a spicy Tunisian chili pepper paste, typically contains caraway in addition to other spices. Hungarian and Austrian cuisines often add caraway to meats and stews. Rye bread recipes across Scandinavian and Eastern European countries often add caraway seeds for additional texture and flavor.

There are spirits made with caraway, such as Kummel, a sweet liqueur originating in the Netherlands made with caraway, cumin, and fennel. Additionally, aquavit is a Scandinavian spirit distilled from either grain or potatoes and flavored with caraway, herbs, and other spices.

Caraway seeds in a white dish

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Caraway Seeds vs. Fennel Seeds vs. Cumin Seeds

Sometimes, caraway can be confused with cumin seeds or fennel seeds.

Caraway and cumin seeds look very similar, though cumin seeds are lighter in color and less curved. However, by taste, the two spices differ considerably: cumin has a warm, earthy, slightly pungent flavor, whereas caraway's licorice and citrus notes are quite distinctive.

Fennel seeds have a greener hue and taste mainly of licorice. Caraway seeds, on the other hand, boast an array of complex flavors.

Whole Caraway Seeds vs. Ground Caraway Seeds

It is more common to find caraway seeds than ground caraway in recipes. This is because ground caraway has a strong flavor and can often be overpowering. However, you can always use ground caraway in small amounts to flavor a dish. Simply grind the seeds in an electric spice grinder or mortar and pestle.

Caraway seeds in a white bowl

Lori Rice

Where to Buy

You can buy caraway seeds in the spice section of most grocery stores. They are also available for purchase at specialty online spice shops.

How to Store

Caraway should be stored in an airtight container away from light. Expect caraway seeds to stay fresh anywhere between six months to a year.

Caraway Substitutes

Though caraway has its own distinctive flavor, you can use a few substitutes to achieve a similar taste. The best replacement is likely fennel seeds; fennel mirrors the licorice-like essence of caraway. You can substitute with a one-to-one ratio.

Alternatively, anise seeds are another suitable substitute. However, they are much more intense than caraway, so I recommend starting with a third to half the amount of spice called for in the original recipe.

Despite the similarities in appearance, I would not recommend cumin seeds as a substitute. The flavor and aroma of cumin seeds are different enough from caraway that it would likely significantly alter the taste of the dish.

How to Cook with Caraway

Here are some ideas to cook with caraway in exciting ways:

  • Mix dried caraway fruit into bread doughs, biscuits, cookies, crackers, or scones.
  • Lightly toast the fruit and sprinkle it on top of savory porridge or cooked vegetables.
  • Take a pinch of ground caraway and mix it into a hot drink.
  • Bloom caraway in oil and pour the sizzling oil on top of a hot soup or stew.
  • Create a flavorful dry rub for meat with caraway seeds and other spices.
  • Make a simple syrup infused with caraway seeds to flavor a cocktail.

Recipes That Use Caraway

Now that we've covered all the great ways to use caraway, be sure to check out these delicious recipes below to get started.