What Is Caraway And How Do You Use It?

You've likely seen caraway seeds in the spice aisle, and maybe you've wondered what they're used for. Although not as commonplace as your thyme, rosemary, and oregano, these little pods can bring depth and variety to your dinnertime repertoire.

"Caraway seeds," as they're described on your grocer's shelf, are actually the pungent dried fruit of the caraway plant, or carum carvi (via MasterClass). These fruits, known as achenes, are crescent-shaped, measure around 0.08 inches in length, and bear a dark brown shade with whitish ribs.

Caraway seeds contain the organic compound anethole, which Epicurious explains is responsible for that distinctive black licorice flavor that people either love or hate. In addition to being compared in aroma and flavor to black licorice, MasterClass explains caraway is also similar in taste and smell to cumin and fennel, and NPR reports the complex seed also has citrus flavors beneath the surface.

Native to Eastern and Central Europe, the Mediterranean, North Africa, and Western Asia, caraway is commonly used in Hungarian, German, and Polish cooking, including sausage and sauerkraut, per MasterClass. They're also prominent in the spicy North African condiment harissa, as NPR notes.

How to use caraway in your cooking

Caraway seeds are an important ingredient in rye bread, giving it its sharp aroma and flavor, as well as in other European bakery items like Irish soda bread (via MasterClass). To amplify their taste, The Spruce Eats recommends toasting the seeds in a skillet over medium-high heat before adding them to baked goods.

Although it doesn't pair well with every herb and spice, in recipes that call for dill, parsley, and cumin, Spiceography recommends adding the highly complementary caraway seed. Caraway is also delicious as a seasoning in cooked carrots and cabbage, and in casseroles, soups and stews. If the tough texture of the seeds bother you, Spiceography recommends putting them in a cheesecloth to infuse the flavor into soups or broths. 

Ready to dive in to some caraway flavor? Here are a few delicious options: NPR offers a recipe for whole wheat fettuccine with savoy cabbage, cream, and caraway seeds. You can add caraway seeds to our very own rye bread recipe for a little extra tangy punch. And finally, this Viennese goulash from the BBC features rich beef, onions, paprika, and of course, caraway.

The Spruce Eats offers more delicious ideas: sprinkle caraway seeds on potatoes or rub them into a pork roast before roasting, add them to potato salad, cook them into baked apples, or mix them into a cheese dip. So don't just pass by that container of caraway seeds at the store. Bring some home and see what happens.