Found yourself trying to make a recipe only to realize you're missing nigella seeds?
In this list of the best nigella seeds substitutes you're likely to find something that's already in your kitchen cupboard. Whether you're making a sweet or savory treat, the seeds below will come to the rescue!
Nigella seeds are tiny black seeds often used in Asian & North African cuisines (source). They're often used in bread & cakes, as well as stews, stir-fries, soups, curries & more.
They're sometimes called black onion seeds. However, they have nothing to do with onions!
I've worked as a recipe developer and food blogger for the past 5 years and here are my 13 favorite ways to replace nigella seeds.
If you want to substitute nigella seeds in a recipe, celery seeds are probably your best option.
They have similar levels of pungency and can be replaced in a 1-to-1 ratio.
Not only do they taste similar, they've also traditionally been used in many similar dishes. Think casseroles, grilled meats, grilled vegetables & soups.
However, you need to keep a few things in mind.
Firstly, celery seeds are more bitter than nigella seeds. See how to neutralize the flavor below.
Secondly, they mainly work in savory dishes and might not be ideal for your sweet bakes.
How to substitute - Use in equal amounts, but remember that celery seeds are more bitter. Neutralize the flavor by pairing them with garlic and onion, or adding a splash of soy sauce or lemon juice.
Black Sesame Seeds
These tiny black seeds provide a rich nutty flavor making them one of the best substitutes for nigella seeds.
They don't only taste similar to nigella seeds but also look almost exactly the same. You'll hardly be able to tell the difference!
Compared to white sesame seeds, these have a more powerful flavor and crunchier texture.
Some consider them to be a little oily and have a slightly bitter taste. This makes them a great addition to savory dishes like stir-fries, grilled veggies, soups, and curries. They also make a brilliant naan bread topping.
Last but not least, their crunchy texture makes them perfect for baking! You can add them to cookies, bread buns, or even cupcake frosting.
How to substitute - Use the exact same amount (for example 1 teaspoon of black sesame seeds to replace 1 teaspoon of nigella seeds).
These tiny seeds are part of the carrot family.
They have a powerful piquant flavor and many culinary uses. In Indian cuisine, they're used to add a slightly nutty flavor to soups and curries.
Their licorice flavor makes them a good alternative for nigella seeds. Use them in cooking or baking, but consider toasting them first - this will release a much fuller flavor.
Fennel and its seeds are tied to numerous potential health benefits. They may help regulate blood pressure, reduce inflammation and even benefit mental health (Source).
How to substitute - They're much stronger than nigella seeds. Make sure to halve the amount needed or only use a third.
Did you know that caraway seeds are not technically seeds but in fact dried fruit of the caraway plant? (Source).
Regardless, they're often used as seeds - in roasted vegetable dishes, bakes, sauces, soups & more.
With a similar flavor profile to nigella seeds, these tiny aromatic seeds are one of the best alternatives in both cooking and baking.
They're a versatile ingredient with a peppery flavor, often used in middle eastern cuisine.
If you prefer a stronger flavor, I recommend grinding them to a fine powder.
In some parts of Eastern Europe, caraway seeds are added to bread, especially rye bread.
How to substitute - Use them in the same quantities as nigella seeds.
Oregano & Black Pepper
You might be surprised to find this on the list but oregano is a brilliant replacement!
This is because nigella seeds are often compared to a combination of oregano & black pepper.
If you want to replicate the nigella seeds' flavor, use dry oregano and some freshly ground black pepper. Remember you won't be able to replicate the same crunch though.
How to substitute - use dry oregano and some black pepper. 1-to-1 substitute.
Famous all over the world, poppy seeds have a distinct earthy flavor. However, they're much milder than nigella seeds.
They're a common ingredient in the Mediterranean region where the poppy plant is believed to originate from.
These ultra-small kidney-shaped seeds tend to stick together when liquid is added. To avoid this, your best bet is to dry-roast them in the oven or grind them into powder.
How to substitute - They're not a good substitute in savory dishes like curries, soups & stews. However, they are great as a bread topping. Moreover, they can work in some sweet bakes (cakes, cupcakes, cookies), but the flavor will be different.
Yes, you've read that right. Nigella seeds have a flavor undertone that greatly resembles onions.
This makes onions another easy-to-find and affordable replacement.
I recommend mincing or chopping them finely and gently frying them in oil for 5 minutes to obtain the best flavor.
How to substitute - use half an onion for every half a teaspoon of nigella seeds. Works in savory dishes only.
Black Mustard Seeds
Popular in Indian cooking, black mustard seeds have a strong aroma.
They're over 4000 years old, making them one of the oldest spices.
Thanks to their intense aroma, they're a great addition to curries, dals & chutneys. They're also a good choice for salad dressings!
When fried in oil, they take on a mild, sweet & nutty flavor.
How to substitute - despite different flavors black mustard can be used as a nigella seed substitute. They work best in savory dishes. Use half the recommended amount.
White Sesame Seeds
Popular not just on bagels and crunch bars, these tiny seeds mimic the flavor of nigella seeds surprisingly well.
Their unique flavor joins nutty & sweet notes but truly comes to life when roasted.
Give them a few minutes in a non-stick pan (medium-high heat) and you'll notice the luscious aroma spreading throughout your kitchen.
They're a great addition to salads, soups, and sandwiches - you practically can't go wrong.
How to substitute - Use the same amount. Works in cooking and baking, sweet & savory recipes.
Black Cumin Seeds
Another versatile spice that can be used in place of nigella seeds.
Black cumin is celebrated in many traditional European and Asian cuisines. But be careful, it's especially pungent!
As well as having many culinary uses, black cumin seeds have been used for medicinal purposes in many cultures throughout the world.
They've been used to help treat neurologic disorders, bacterial infections, and inflammatory diseases (Source)
How to substitute - Be careful as these tiny black seeds have a powerful flavor. Use them sparingly. Suitable for both cooking & baking.
Another staple of Indian cooking. These are nutty & slightly sweet.
Remember to always toast or cook them as their raw flavor is super bitter. I also recommend grinding them into powder.
It's a good idea to pan-roast the fenugreek powder with other spices (think turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander seeds). A squeeze of lemon juice can also help reduce their bitterness.
How to substitute - Use only a third or half the amount. Works best in savory dishes.
Coriander seeds have two distinct layers of flavors.
When whole, they're almost citrusy & lightly sweet. Once they're ground into powder, they reveal a rich aroma and nutty flavor.
This makes them a great substitute for nigella seeds, particularly in salty dishes like soups and curries.
They're high in certain minerals & vitamins and can be used ground, whole, fresh, or dry.
How to substitute - Use equal amounts.
Last but not least in our list of substitutes. Their flavor resembles caraway's but with a slightly bitter undertone.
Some also compare their flavor with that of sesame seeds.
One of by far the most popular uses for dill seeds is in pickling!
But you'd be wrong to think this is the only way to use them. They're super versatile, perfect for salads, casseroles, stews & more.
How to substitute - Use equal amounts. Instead of using whole seeds, opt for grinding them to a fine powder.
To conclude, there are numerous ways you can substitute nigella seeds.
Best appearance - opt for black sesame seeds if you're looking for something that looks the most like nigella seeds.
Best flavor - you can't go wrong with celery seeds. They're used in very similar recipes.
Most widely available - oregano & black pepper! If you like to cook, these are probably already in your kitchen cupboard.
For more food hacks & fun facts don't forget to check out my food tips section.
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