Caraway seed is probably one of those things you probably don’t think about too often. For the uninitiated, it might seem like a throwaway, but that is far from the truth. It adds texture and flavor to anything you add it to and should be 100% be in your pantry.
While we call them a “seed,” caraway seeds are really the dried fruit of the caraway plant. Each fruit contains a single seed and the plant is part of the aromatic family known as Apiaceae which includes ever-popular celery, parsley, and carrot.
We most often hear about the seeds themselves, but in some places, the leaves of the plant are used much like an herb or aromatic. The base of the plant can be cleaned and cooked like you would cook any other root vegetable.
Caraway seed is native to places like Eastern as well as Central Europe, the Mediterranean, Western Asia, and North Africa. It is sometimes called Persian Cumin or Meridian Fennel.
We have been using them for their punch in the kitchen as well as their medicinal properties for thousands of years. The fruit is harvested and then dried. Like so many other spices we know and love, it is then sold as a whole seed or ground.
Some people describe the flavor and aroma of caraway seed as a cross between cumin and fennel. They are earthy with a mild licorice tinge as well as some citrus and pepper notes. Each seed Is highly concentrated with essential oils giving it a punch.
Here are some great recipes with caraway seed:
Harissa Sauce (Spicy Chile Sauce)
Irish Soda Bread with Whiskey Glaze
What are caraway seeds used in?
They are found in a lot more than you would expect them to be in. Ready for this? It is used for baked goods like Irish soda bread, German sauerkraut and onion tarts, salty scones. They use it in Scandinavian countries to flavor the liqueur Akvavit.
They are also great for:
Potato salad and coleslaw
Curries, soups, and stews
Are caraway and cumin seeds the same thing?
Nope, these are two different things. That said, they are part of the same parsley family and are similar in flavor.
Are fennel seeds and caraway seeds the same?
While the two look similar, they are not. Just like cumin seeds, they are related, but not the same thing. Fennel seeds come from the fennel plant and have a strong licorice flavor. Caraway is more subtle.
What can you use in place of caraway seeds?
In a pinch, you can substitute them for aniseed which is different than star anise. They have a similar flavor to the former and will work if you find yourself out.