Ajwain or ajowan seeds are native to the Indian subcontinent. These tiny little black seeds have a bitter, pungent, and caraway-like flavor which is why they’re also known as carom seeds.
Ajwain has various culinary uses, especially in India where it’s commonly used as a spice, and in traditional dishes such as chutney and chaawar.
As they’re not commonly found in every spice rack, possible ajwain substitutes such as dried thyme, caraway seeds, marjoram, and dried tarragon are more readily available for you to test in your next recipe.
What is Ajwain?
If you were to ask what the most commonly used seed in Indian cooking is, the answer would be ajwain.
The mother plant is very similar to parsley, but the seed is more comparable to that of thyme but stronger with musty undertones.
Initially grown in Egypt, ajwain is now found most often in India, but also in Iran, Egypt, and Afghanistan.
More often than not you’ll find ajwain in recipes for breads, biscuits, and snack foods, but it’s also a great companion to vegetables like green beans and potatoes.
These pungent seeds are also used for medicinal purposes with compounds that have antibacterial, antifungal, and anti-inflammatory properties.
What are the Benefits of Using Carom Seeds?
What is a Good Alternative to Ajwain?
1. Dried Thyme
The best ajwain substitute when it comes to flavor is dried thyme. Thyme is the closest herb in taste while still missing some of the musty undertones that come with ajwain.
As there are many different types of thyme out there now, the original thyme flavor is the best choice.
Dried thyme can be used in the same amounts as ajwain and you’ll get the same minty and woodsy flavors, without the mustiness of ajwain.
2. Caraway Seeds
If you lack thyme in your spice rack, caraway seeds can be an ajwain substitute.
Use half of the amount of caraway seeds than the amount of ajwain called for as they have a much stronger flavor. Feel free to add more to your tastes after.
With similar flavors to thyme and oregano, no wonder marjoram is also on this list of ajwain seed substitutes.
With a milder minty flavor, marjoram cannot withstand longer cooking times.
If it’s a curry recipe you’re trying to alter, marjoram is not your best choice. The mild flavors will be completely overpowered by the other ingredients.
In general, the same amount of marjoram to ajwain should be sufficient.
4. Mexican or Mediterranean Oregano
With its earthy notes and sharp flavor, oregano makes a decent substitute for ajwain seeds.
The aromas of oregano and ajwain are quite similar and oregano won’t lose any flavor in the cooking process, no matter how long.
Due to its strong flavors, use less oregano than you would ajwain.
5. Dried Tarragon
As the optimal substitute for thyme, dried tarragon would also be an optimal substitute for ajwain seeds.
Be wary of the licorice notes in tarragon as they can be off-putting in some dishes.
Experiment with your dishes and see what works.
Sharing some of the flavor and aroma notes, cumin can be substituted for ajwain in some dishes.
Experiment and see where these flavors will mesh and it’s advised to use the same amount of cumin that you would ajwain.
Are ajwain seeds celery seeds?
Celery seeds are often confused with ajwain, but they are, indeed, from different plants. The mother plants of these two seeds are from the same Apiaceae family of plants which also includes caraway, coriander, fennel, and parsnips.
Is ajwain harmful?
In some people, too much ajwain has had some adverse effects. Consuming too much ajwain has been connected with worsening stomach ulcers and should be avoided by people with diverticulitis, liver diseases, and ulcerative colitis.
Can ajwain reduce belly fat?
Because the consumption of ajwain seeds has been linked to better digestion and nutrition absorption, this ultimately leads to less fat storage and inevitably, weight loss.
Carom seeds are amazing. Although you can find these seeds in some grocery stores, you can also substitute them with common herbs that may reside in your spice rack.
Ajwain seeds are great in curries and sambars, but if you want to try something new, try cumin, thyme, or oregano as they also have some pungent, herbal notes.
Your only limit is your imagination when it comes to flavor!