Nigella seeds are one of the best-kept secrets of the culinary world!
Many of us would just skip over this ingredient if we see it in a recipe, as nigella seeds are not commonly kept in our spice cupboards.
But these seeds have a well-deserved space in our kitchens! People who cook with nigella seeds swear by their delicious flavor and wouldn’t be caught without them.
But what if you can’t get any nigella seeds – what is the best substitute to use? The best substitute for nigella seeds in terms of flavor is either cumin seeds or mustard seeds. You can also use a number of different seeds such as cumin, mustard, caraway, and sesame as a substitute for nigella seeds.
Got a recipe that asks for nigella seeds, but your cupboard is bare? Don’t panic, we have some great substitutes that will make sure your dish still tastes delicious!
Let’s take a look at the 9 best substitutes for nigella seeds and how to use them.
What Are Nigella Seeds?
Nigella seeds are small dried seeds, gathered from the Nigella Sativa plant. There are over 18 different varieties of nigella plants around the world, but just one of these is used for nigella seed production.
The seeds themselves are small and triangular with one pointed end. They are matte black in color and have a hard and crunchy texture.
Chefs and cooks love using nigella seeds for their unique and distinctive taste. They do not have a particularly strong aroma but add a unique flavor to many different dishes.
Nigella seeds are a popular ingredient in many different cuisines around the world, particularly in Middle Eastern, Asian and Indian cuisines.
Nigella seeds are by no means a new invention – they are often referred to as the oldest spice on earth!
Nigella plants have been cultivated for medicinal purposes and food since ancient Egyptian times. In fact, nigella seeds were even found in Tutankhamun’s tomb!
What Do Nigella Seeds Taste Like?
Nigella seeds have a complex and delicate flavor that perfectly complements many varying types of cuisines.
They have a peppery flavor, similar to licorice, but with herbal undertones of oregano and a hint of onion. When toasted and ground, the flavor becomes sweet, smoky, and nutty.
These flavors work incredibly well with other spices such as cumin, caraway, and coriander. Nigella seeds are normally only used in savory dishes, as the flavor does not work well with sweet dishes.
What Are Nigella Seeds Used For?
The earthy flavor of nigella seeds pairs perfectly with squashes and root vegetables. Many of us are familiar with roasting butternut squash with cumin – try a sprinkling of nigella seeds as well and your dish will be transformed!
Nigella seeds are commonly used in Indian cooking as their flavor works well in curries and lentil dishes. They can also be used in pickles and sprinkled on top of salads and stir-fries as a garnish.
Paanch phoron is a popular Bengali spice mix that blends nigella seeds with fenugreek, mustard seed, cumin seeds, and fennel seeds.
This five-spice mix is rubbed onto meats before roasting, infusing the dish with an incredible pungent flavor.
If you have ever eaten naan bread with your curry, it likely contained nigella seeds! In India, many chefs use nigella seeds in bread and pastries.
Try sprinkling nigella seeds onto your homemade bread before you pop it into the oven for baking – delicious!
One unusual pairing for nigella seeds is with dairy products and eggs. A sprinkling of roasted nigella seeds can be added to yogurt to make a tasty dip or dressing.
Or try adding them to egg dishes such as an omelet or soft-boiled eggs – definitely a taste sensation!
Do Nigella Seeds Have Any Other Names?
Now, this is where things get very confusing! Nigella seeds are known by many different names around the world, and some of these names are very similar to other spices we have in the cupboards.
Let’s see if we can set the record straight and figure out what is going on with the many names of nigella seeds!
- Nigella can also be referred to as black caraway. This is not the same as caraway seeds, which come from the caraway plant.
- Another name nigella is known by is black cumin. This is not the same as cumin seeds, which come from the Cuminum cyminum plant.
- The plant from which nigella seeds come can also be called the fennel flower, and the seeds may be referred to as black fennel. This is not the same as the other types of fennels we are familiar with. Herb fennel produces fennel seeds, and Florence fennel produces fennel bulbs.
- The nigella plant is sometimes called the nutmeg flower. This is not the same as the nutmeg in your spice rack.
- Nigella plants can also be referred to as Roman coriander. Again, this is not the same as the coriander in your spice rack or herb garden.
- Some chefs refer to nigella seeds as onion seeds or black onion seeds. These are the same as nigella seeds and do not come from onions!
Are you feeling thoroughly confused yet?! If you’re not then we definitely are!
It seems that nigella seeds are so versatile that they’ve become known by many different names, some of them overlapping with other commonly used culinary and medicinal spices.
So just to be clear, we will be looking for nigella seed substitutes today – that is the seeds of the nigella plant!
The 9 Best Substitutes For Nigella Seed
So now we’ve got you all excited about nigella seeds, we need to turn our thoughts to what you can use as a substitute for these delicious little seeds.
There are plenty of options available, so don’t be disheartened if your nigella seed supply has run out!
Now, this probably won’t come as a huge surprise to you, but remember all those other names which nigella seeds are known by? Well, the real versions of these can often make a great substitute for nigella seeds!
Here are the 9 best substitutes for nigella seed!
1. Cumin Seeds
Cumin seeds are probably the closest in flavor to nigella seeds, and most of us will have some cumin seeds in our spice rack. Cumin has the same earthy, nutty flavor with a peppery kick, with similar herbal undertones to nigella.
The best way to use cumin seeds as a nigella substitute is to dry-toast them in a pan before adding them to your recipe. You can also crush them lightly after toasting to really bring out those incredible flavors.
Cumin seeds make a great addition to many dishes which ask for nigella, including roast vegetables, curries, and naan bread.
2. Mustard Seeds
Nigella seeds are slightly pungent and bitter, similar in flavor to black mustard seeds. These can be difficult to find so you can also use the more common yellow or brown mustard seeds.
The quantity of seeds you use should be adjusted depending on the type of mustard seeds you are using.
Yellow ones are milder in flavor and you may need to add double the quantities to get the same taste. Black mustard seeds can be quite strong, so we’d suggest using half the amount of these.
3. Caraway Seeds
Caraway seeds have a warm and slightly spicy flavor, very similar to nigella seeds. This makes them a great substitute for nigella seeds in recipes that ask for whole spices, such as curries and pickles.
When using caraway seeds as a nigella seed substitute, they can be added on a like-for-like basis in the same quantities.
Caraway seeds are slightly milder than nigella seeds, so if you are making a curry you may wish to add some cumin as well to bring out the flavors in your dish.
4. Black Sesame Seeds
Black sesame seeds are not only similar in flavor to nigella seeds, but they also look the same as well.
Adding black sesame seeds to your dish will give a peppery, nutty flavor which works well with many dishes which call for nigella seeds.
5. Cumin Powder
Cumin powder will work well if you need the flavor of nigella seeds in your dish.
However, you won’t get the same appearance as nigella seeds, so if you’re looking for seeds to add to your bread or yogurt then opt for cumin, caraway, or mustard seeds instead.
6. Celery Seeds
A sprinkling of celery seeds can work very well as a nigella seed substitute. These little seeds have a similar flavor profile, but can be slightly bitter. For this reason, we would suggest adding half the amount your recipe asks for.
If it is the herbal undertones of nigella seeds that you are lacking, then adding a pinch of oregano can transform your dish.
We recommend using oregano as well as a peppery substitute such as caraway to get the full nigella seed flavor.
8. Fenugreek Seeds
Fenugreek is a punchy and flavorsome seed, and should be used with caution! It will add a great flavor to curries and stir-fries, but if using as a nigella substitute then only add half the amount to your dish.
9. Fennel Seeds
Fennel seeds can be used to replace nigella seeds, but will only work in certain dishes. Fennel has a stronger licorice flavor than nigella, so it may overpower other delicate flavors in your recipe.
Now that we’ve gone over the absolute best substitutes for nigella seeds, let’s take a look at few related questions on the subject!
Can you eat nigella seeds raw?
Although nigella seeds are normally eaten cooked, they can also be eaten raw and are actually more nutritious before they are cooked.
The reason that nigella seeds are normally cooked is that the cooking process intensifies the flavor and aroma, and that is what we use these little seeds for after all!
Try sprinkling raw nigella seeds onto a salad or yogurt dip, you might be pleasantly surprised!
How do you store nigella seeds?
Like all dried spices and seeds, nigella seeds have a very long shelf life if they are stored correctly. Keep them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place and they will keep fresh for a considerable period of time.
If your nigella seeds start to smell musty or are disintegrating then they should be discarded.
Are nigella seeds good for you?
Although we only eat nigella seeds in tiny quantities, they are very nutritious and have interesting medicinal qualities.
More research needs to be done, but some initial tests have shown that nigella seeds could have some amazing health benefits:
- Research has found that nigella can reduce the nasal symptoms of allergy sufferers
- Nigella may help treat infections that are resistant to antibiotics
- Studies have shown that nigella seeds may be beneficial in maintaining brain function, potentially reducing the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease
- Nigella seeds could have potential as an anti-cancer drug, as early studies have shown that they have cancer-cell killing properties.
These tiny seeds pack in some impressive nutritional benefits as well. Nigella seeds are packed full of antioxidants, helping to protect against chronic health conditions. They can also help to lower cholesterol and reduce inflammation.
Can you grow nigella seeds?
Nigella seeds are fairly cheap and easy to source, found in the spice aisle of most big stores and Asian supermarkets. But it can be a fun challenge to try and grow your own, and you will have the freshest-tasting nigella seeds around!
Nigella sativa grows easily in warmer climates and is not a fussy plant. It will thrive in good soil with regular watering. This annual plant has a large seed capsule that contains the nigella seeds.
These capsules are harvested in September before they burst. They are then dried and gently crushed, and the seeds are collected.
Interesting fact – the seeds are white when they are collected from the seed pod! They only turn black when exposed to air.
What are the best nigella seeds recipes?
If you’ve got a packet of nigella seeds lurking at the back of your spice cupboard, get them out immediately – we’ve got some great suggestions for you!
Roasted Butternut Squash And Nigella Seed Soup
This dish is a great winter warmer, and a fun way to spice up your soup! Simply dice the squash and place it in a roasting tin with oil, nigella seeds, and seasoning.
Roast until golden and pour in some vegetable stock. Blend until smooth and voila – a delicious, filling, and nutritious soup!
Easy Nigella Flatbreads
If you’ve never tried making flatbreads then you’ll be blown away by this easy recipe!
Mix equal quantities of self-raising flour with plain yogurt, add a pinch of salt and a sprinkling of nigella seeds. Blend into a dough and separate into small balls.
Each ball is then rolled flat on a floured surface and cooked for 2 minutes on each side in a medium-hot griddle pan. You’ll never buy naan bread from the store again!
Nigella And Red Cabbage Slaw
This is a lovely twist on the traditional slaw – why not give it a try at your next barbeque or family dinner?
Add finely sliced red cabbage, carrot, and onion to a bowl, and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and nigella seeds. Drizzle with natural yogurt and mix thoroughly.
This is an authentic Indian potato dish which sadly you don’t often see on restaurant or takeout menus!
Simply dice potatoes and fry in oil until cooked with nigella seeds, chili, turmeric, and salt. You’ll be rewarded with rich golden potatoes that are packed full of flavor.
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