Have you ever found yourself in the middle of preparing a recipe, only to realize that you’re missing a key ingredient – nigella seeds? Don’t worry, because I’ve got you covered with this list of the best nigella seeds substitutes that you probably already have in your kitchen cupboard. Whether you’re making a sweet or savory dish, these alternative seeds will come to your rescue!
Nigella seeds are tiny black seeds commonly used in Asian and North African cuisines. They add a unique flavor to dishes such as bread, cakes, stews, stir-fries, soups, and curries. Although sometimes referred to as black onion seeds, they have no relation to onions. As a recipe developer and food blogger for the past 5 years, I’m here to share my 13 favorite alternatives to nigella seeds.
If you’re looking for the best substitute for nigella seeds, celery seeds are your go-to option. They have a similar level of pungency and can be used in a 1-to-1 ratio. Not only do they taste similar, but they have also been traditionally used in many similar dishes like casseroles, grilled meats and vegetables, and soups. However, keep in mind that celery seeds are more bitter than nigella seeds. To neutralize the flavor, pair them with garlic and onion or add a splash of soy sauce or lemon juice.
Black Sesame Seeds
These tiny black seeds are an excellent substitute for nigella seeds. They provide a rich nutty flavor and look almost identical to nigella seeds. You won’t even be able to tell the difference! Black sesame seeds have a more powerful flavor and crunchier texture compared to white sesame seeds. They are great in savory dishes like stir-fries, grilled vegetables, soups, and curries. They also make a brilliant topping for naan bread. Additionally, their crunchy texture makes them perfect for baking, such as adding them to cookies, bread buns, or even cupcake frosting.
Fennel seeds are tiny seeds that belong to the carrot family. They have a powerful piquant flavor and are commonly used in Indian cuisine to add a slightly nutty flavor to soups and curries. Their licorice flavor makes them a good alternative for nigella seeds. Consider toasting them before use to release a fuller flavor. It’s important to note that fennel seeds are stronger than nigella seeds, so use half or only a third of the amount.
Caraway seeds, technically dried fruit of the caraway plant, are often used as seeds in roasted vegetable dishes, bakes, sauces, soups, and more. They have a similar flavor profile to nigella seeds and can be used as a substitute in both cooking and baking. These tiny aromatic seeds have a peppery flavor and are commonly used in Middle Eastern cuisine. If you prefer a stronger flavor, grind them into a fine powder. Use caraway seeds in the same quantities as nigella seeds.
Oregano & Black Pepper
Surprisingly, oregano is a brilliant replacement for nigella seeds. This is because nigella seeds are often compared to a combination of oregano and black pepper. To replicate the flavor of nigella seeds, use dry oregano and freshly ground black pepper. However, keep in mind that you won’t be able to replicate the same crunch. Use dry oregano and black pepper in a 1-to-1 substitute.
Poppy seeds have a distinct earthy flavor and are famous all over the world. However, they are milder than nigella seeds. These small kidney-shaped seeds are common in Mediterranean cuisine. When liquid is added, they tend to stick together, so it’s best to dry-roast them in the oven or grind them into powder to prevent clumping. Poppy seeds are not a good substitute in savory dishes like curries and stews. However, they are great as a bread topping and can work in some sweet bakes like cakes, cupcakes, and cookies, but with a different flavor.
Believe it or not, onions can be a replacement for nigella seeds. They have a flavor undertone that greatly resembles onions, making them an easy-to-find and affordable substitute. To obtain the best flavor, finely mince or chop the onions and gently fry them in oil for 5 minutes. Use half an onion for every half a teaspoon of nigella seeds. This substitute works best in savory dishes.
Black Mustard Seeds
Black mustard seeds are popular in Indian cooking and have a strong aroma. They are one of the oldest spices, with over 4000 years of history. Due to their intense aroma, they are a great addition to curries, dals, chutneys, and even salad dressings. When fried in oil, they develop a mild, sweet, and nutty flavor. Despite having different flavors, black mustard seeds can be used as a substitute for nigella seeds. Use half the recommended amount, and they work best in savory dishes.
White Sesame Seeds
White sesame seeds are not only popular on bagels and crunch bars but also a surprisingly good substitute for nigella seeds. They mimic the flavor of nigella seeds remarkably well. These tiny seeds have a unique flavor profile with nutty and sweet notes, especially when roasted. Roast them in a non-stick pan over medium-high heat to bring out their luscious aroma. White sesame seeds are great additions to salads, soups, sandwiches, and can be used in both sweet and savory recipes. Use the same amount as you would for nigella seeds.
Black Cumin Seeds
Black cumin seeds are another versatile spice that can be used as a substitute for nigella seeds. They are celebrated in many traditional European and Asian cuisines, but be cautious as they are especially pungent. Black cumin seeds have many culinary uses and have also been used for medicinal purposes in various cultures throughout the world. Use them sparingly as they have a powerful flavor. They are suitable for both cooking and baking.
Fenugreek seeds are a staple in Indian cooking, known for their nutty and slightly sweet flavor. Toast or cook them before use, as their raw flavor is super bitter. I recommend grinding them into a powder for better results. Pan-roast the fenugreek powder with other spices like turmeric, ground cumin, and ground coriander seeds. A squeeze of lemon juice can also help reduce their bitterness. Use only a third or half the amount of fenugreek seeds as a substitute, and they work best in savory dishes.
Coriander seeds have a unique flavor profile with two distinct layers. When whole, they have a citrusy and lightly sweet taste. Once ground into powder, they reveal a rich aroma and nutty flavor. These qualities make coriander seeds a great substitute for nigella seeds, especially in salty dishes like soups and curries. Coriander seeds are high in certain minerals and vitamins and can be used ground, whole, fresh, or dry. Use equal amounts of coriander seeds as you would for nigella seeds.
Dill seeds are the last on our list of substitutes. They have a flavor that resembles caraway’s, with a slightly bitter undertone. Some even compare their flavor to sesame seeds. Dill seeds are popular in pickling, but they are also versatile and can be used in salads, casseroles, stews, and more. Use equal amounts of dill seeds, but instead of using whole seeds, opt for grinding them into a fine powder.
In conclusion, there are numerous ways you can substitute nigella seeds in your recipes. Black sesame seeds are the best substitute appearance-wise, as they look the most like nigella seeds. When it comes to flavor, celery seeds are the perfect choice since they are used in very similar recipes. If availability is a concern, oregano and black pepper are the most widely available substitutes that you probably already have in your kitchen. For more food hacks and fun facts, don’t forget to check out my food tips section.