Whole cumin seeds have a tangy, musky aroma and a savory, almost charred, flavor. They are brown-yellow in color and crescent-shaped. Like other schizocarp (dry fruit) spices, cumin seeds have ridges separated by oil-filled canals running along their lengths.
Whole cumin gains a lot when crushed and lightly toasted in a dry pan—this releases a nuttier flavor with notes of roasted meats and vegetables. In fact, cumin is a favorite spice for emulating savory meat flavors in vegetarian cuisines. It should be used sparingly as it can overpower a dish easily.
Cumin is famously used in Turkish gyros (aka doner kebab) which are made with beef or lamb, versus traditional Greek gyro recipes that can call for chicken or lamb. In Indian cooking whole cumin is often fried in oil at the beginning of curry recipes. It is also found in Mexican dishes, and is ground and used in chili powder blends.
2 oz (57g) per 1/2 cup
Cumin is often confused for caraway and the nomenclature for the herb in Slavic countries blurs the distinction between the two. Called "Roman caraway" or "spice caraway" cumin is actually spicier than its similar-looking relation. In addition to being hotter in taste, it is lighter in color, and bigger in size.
Cumin has eight ridges running lengthwise along its boat-shaped body with oil canals between them. It is yellow-brown in color and looks similar not just to caraway but also the other schizocarp herbaceous spices: fennel and anise seed.