Home Articles What Is Garam Masala? (+ How to Use It)

What Is Garam Masala? (+ How to Use It)

The spices in Indian cuisine are absolutely to die for, right?

But have you ever found yourself pondering, “What is garam masala?”

A Bowl of Garam Masala with Spices on Background

Garam masala is a must-try for Indian cuisine aficionados. It’s a key player in many mouthwatering recipes.

It’s the perfect ingredient to elevate your favorite dishes, from rich and creamy curries to irresistible biryanis.

A Bowl of Garam Masala

What Is Garam Masala?

Garam masala is essentially a blend of ground Indian spices.

In Hindi, “garam” means hot, and “masala” refers to a blend of spices. 

But don’t be fooled – it’s not the kind of heat that’ll set your mouth on fire.

It’s more of a warm, aromatic blend that really elevates the flavor of your dishes.

There isn’t just one recipe for garam masala. It varies from region to region, and even from family to family.

However, the usual suspects in garam masala are cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander, and black pepper

Some blends also include nutmeg, mace, bay leaves, and even dried red chilies.

The result is a fragrant, slightly sweet, and warm spice blend that brings so much flavor to so many dishes.

You can find garam masala pre-made at your local grocery store or Indian markets. But making it at home is a piece of cake too! 

Just gather your spices, toast them to release their aromatic oils, and grind them into a fine powder.

What Does Garam Masala Taste Like?

The first thing you’ll notice is its warm, aromatic essence.

This warmth comes from the combo of spices that work together in perfect harmony. 

And no, it’s not the fiery kind of heat you might expect.

Garam masala has a more subtle, comforting warmth.

It has a rich, savory flavor that’s complemented by a fruity brightness and even some wonderful peppery notes.

Garam Masala on a Wooden Bowl with Spices on Background

What Spices Are In Garam Masala?

As I mentioned before, there’s no one-size-fits-all recipe for garam masala.

This spice varies from region to region and even from family to family. 

Here are some of the most common spices that come together to create garam masala.

  • Cinnamon
  • Cardamom
  • Cloves
  • Cumin
  • Coriander
  • Black pepper
  • Nutmeg

Depending on the region or personal preference, garam masala might also include:

  • Turmeric
  • Saffron
  • Fennel seeds
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Mustard seeds
  • Mace
  • Star anise
  • Tamarind
  • Fenugreek
  • Bay leaves
  • Malabar leaves
  • Dried red chiles
Curry Powder in a Clear Bowl

Garam Masala vs. Curry Powder: What’s the Difference?

Garam masala and curry powder both come from India.

They’re often used to bring mouth-watering flavors to a wide variety of dishes. 

But despite their similarities, these spice blends have their own unique characteristics.

Curry powder has turmeric in it, which gives it that fabulous yellow-orange hue. 

Garam masala, on the other hand, has a more reddish-brown tint, thanks to its unique blend of spices. 

And let’s talk heat! Curry powder can pack a spicy punch, especially in its hotter varieties. 

Garam masala, though? It’s more about that warmth, rather than setting your tastebuds on fire.

Chicken Tikka Masala on a Plate

Cooking with Garam Masala

Garam masala is usually added towards the end of cooking.

Not only does it bring a burst of flavor to your dish, but it also adds that oh-so-enticing aroma.

For an extra touch of pizzazz, you can sprinkle a little garam masala over your dish right before serving.

From savory curries and stews to mouthwatering rice dishes, garam masala adds so much flavor to all kinds of dishes.

Traditionally, it’s made fresh from individual spices and used within a few days. 

But remember, garam masala loves company.

It’s often not the only spice and seasoning dancing around in your dish. 

Feel free to mix and match with other spices to create your very own flavor symphony.

When cooking with garam masala, a little goes a long way.

Start with a small amount, think a pinch or a teaspoon, and let it work its magic.

Where to Buy Garam Masala

Are you on the hunt for garam masala? Here are some tips on where to find this delightful spice blend:

  • Supermarkets: You can find garam masala at your local supermarket. It might be tucked away among other Indian or international spices, so keep an eye out. 
  • Specialty Stores: These stores often carry a wider variety of blends, giving you the chance to explore different flavors. 
  • Farmers’ Market: Don’t forget to check out your local farmers’ market. Sometimes, you can find artisanal spice blends, including garam masala, handcrafted with love by local vendors.
  • Online Shopping: If you prefer shopping from the comfort of your home, numerous online retailers offer garam masala. 
  • Make Your Own: Feeling adventurous? Why not make your own blend? 

How to Store Garam Masala

Be sure to stash your garam masala in an airtight container, and find a cool, dark spot to keep it in. 

Now, here’s the deal with ground garam masala.

It tends to lose its pizzazz over time. So, the sooner you use it, the better! 

Try to use it within a few weeks for maximum flavor impact.

But if you still have some hanging around after 6 months, no worries, as it won’t spoil.

Just keep in mind that as your garam masala ages, you might need to use a little more in your recipes to achieve that perfect taste. 

It’s like a fine wine and might change over time, but it still has plenty of flavor to offer!

Common Garam Masala Substitutes

Don’t have garam masala? Try these substitutes instead: 

  • Curry Powder: While you’ll miss those warm, sweet notes, curry powder’s flavor still complements most Indian dishes fabulously.
  • Chaat Masala: This spice blend is made with amchoor, cumin, coriander, ginger, black pepper, asafetida, salt, and chili.

Just remember to add it gradually, so the flavor doesn’t steal the show.

If you’re in a real bind, you can also try a pinch of Allspice.

While it won’t have the same complexity as garam masala, it can still add a bit of warmth and depth to your dish.

Garam Masala on a Mortar and Pestle

How to Make Your Own Garam Masala

Ready to whip up your very own garam masala? Let’s dive into this flavor-packed adventure!

  1. Assemble your spices: Get cumin, coriander, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, and cloves. Add other favorites like nutmeg or bay leaves for a personal twist.
  2. Choose whole or ground spices: Whole spices pack more flavor but need toasting and grinding. Ground spices save time but might be milder.
  3. Toast whole spices: Gently toast them in a pan over medium heat until fragrant and slightly darker. Keep stirring to avoid burning!
  4. Grind them up: Cool toasted spices, then grind them into a fine powder with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Using pre-ground spices? Skip to the next step.
  5. Mix: Combine all spices in a bowl and stir. And there you have it! You have homemade garam masala.
What is Garam Masala

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Kim - InsanelyGood
Hey there! I'm Kim. I love running, cooking, and curling up with a good book! I share recipes for people who LOVE good food, but want to keep things simple :)

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