What Is Caraway?

Add a subtle licorice hint to many dishes

Pile of dry caraway seeds
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Highly aromatic caraway seeds have a distinctive mild anise flavor that adds a welcome and subtle licorice hint to many dishes. Their taste is earthy with a hint of citrus and pepper. A frequent addition to spice cabinets, caraway seeds are the dried fruit of the caraway plant, not seeds at all. Nevertheless, they're commonly referred to as caraway seeds in the culinary arts. If you've ever eaten rye bread, you no doubt tasted caraway seeds.

Caraway seeds are similar in flavor to aniseed—not star anise—and you can substitute anise seeds for caraway seeds in a recipe if you don't have any caraway in your spice cabinet.

Using Caraway Seeds in Cooking

Caraway seeds are frequently used in baking. The seeds found in most types of rye bread and soda bread are caraway seeds, and they are a traditional ingredient in British seed cake. Caraway seeds are also used in flavoring curries, soups, sausages, vegetables and even liqueurs, such as the flavored Scandinavian spirit aquavit. They're sometimes used in pickling and brining as well. Caraway seeds pair well with garlic, pork and cabbage. Ways to use caraway seeds include:

  • Add caraway seeds to potato salad or coleslaw
  • Add a pinch to any tomato-based sauce or soup
  • Sprinkle over roasted potatoes or sweet potatoes
  • Mix into cheese dip
  • Sprinkle onto baked apples to enhance the flavor
  • Add to shortbread cookies or Irish soda bread cookies
  • Use to flavor beef goulash or kielbasa stew
  • Add to any recipe that includes cabbage
  • Use with a pork roast or pork chops

Caraway Seeds as Substitutes

Caraway and cumin both belong to the parsley family and they are similar in taste. You can substitute ground caraway seeds in recipes that call for ground cumin, although the flavor will not be as strong or hot.

Caraway seeds are also an acceptable substitute for coriander seeds in recipes. 

When you make a spice substitution, start out using half the recommended amount and taste as you go. You'll probably be able to add the entire amount, especially if you are substituting with a spice that has languished in the spice cabinet for a while and lost some potency. However, you may need to make adjustments to other spices in the recipe you are following. 

How to Toast Caraway Seeds

Toasted caraway seeds are a flavorful addition to breads and salads, but the earthy fennel and anise taste is mild until the seed is cooked or dry roasted. To toast caraway seeds, place a small dry skillet over medium-high heat and add the seeds. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes or until the seeds are fragrant. Remove from heat and let the seeds cool. Then add them to your favorite baked goods.

The Leaves and Roots of Caraway Plants

The caraway plant is a member of the carrot family. The leaves of the caraway plant can be used like any leafy herb, much like its relative parsley. In addition, the root of the caraway plant can be cooked and eaten like any root vegetable.