Cumin is one of the commonly used spices in food preparations. It is also used in traditional medicine as a stimulant, a carminative and an astringent. In this study, we characterized the antioxidant activity of three commercially available cumin varieties, viz., cumin (Cuminum cyminum), black cumin (Nigella sativa) and bitter cumin (C. nigrum). The antioxidant capacity of cumin varieties was tested on Fe2+ ascorbate induced rat liver microsomal lipid peroxidation, soybean lipoxygenase dependent lipid peroxidation and 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) radical scavenging methods. The total phenolic content of methanolic extracts of cumin varieties ranged from 4.1 to 53.6 mg g−1 dry weight. Methanolic extracts of all the three varieties of cumin showed higher antioxidant activity compared with that of the aqueous extract. Among the cumin varieties, bitter cumin showed the highest antioxidant activity followed by cumin and black cumin in different antioxidant systems. IC50 values of the methanolic extract of bitter cumin were found to be 0.32, 0.1 and 0.07 mg dry weight of cumin seeds on the lipoxygenase dependent lipid peroxidation system, the DPPH radical scavenging system and the rat liver microsomal lipid peroxidation system, respectively. The data also show that cumin is a potent antioxidant capable of scavenging hydroxy, peroxy and DPPH free radicals and thus inhibits radical-mediated lipid peroxidation. The high antioxidant activity of bitter cumin can be correlated to the high phenolic content among the three cumin varieties. Thus, bitter cumin with a high phenolic content and good antioxidant activity can be supplemented for both nutritional purposes and preservation of foods.