September 14, 2018

Difference Between Curry Powder VS Garam Masala

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Curry powder VS Garam Masala, two different Indian spice blends used for different purposes.

If you are confused about what they are or use them as a substitute for the other, then its time to stop and use Garam Masala and Curry powder correctly in a dish. 

A bowl of curry powder and garam masala powder on a mat to explain the difference between the two

Garam Masala is a spice blend integral to every Indian household.

I will be surprised if you come across any Indian home that did not have a jar or packet of this quit essential Indian Spice in their kitchen.

Those who are unaware of how to use Garam Masala or mistake curry powder with Garam Masala really need to know the difference between the two if you wish to get your Indian cooking right.

What is the Difference Between Curry Powder VS Garam Masala Powder?

Now, if this question was asked to a person living in India, they would probably smirk at you and think you are some kind of a non-foodie alien!

For one, Curry masala or Curry Powder’ is not an Indian spice.and,

two, you don’t actually need curry powder to make Indian food!!

(Click here to read the post for the origins of Curry Powder and how to use it)

Did I just raise your eyebrows or confused you further?

Well, these statements are true, especially when it comes to traditional Indian cooking.

You see both the powders are spice blends made with many different spices.

Just like Taco seasoning and Fajita seasoning are two different yet similar spice blends used for making different meals, Curry Powder and Garam Masala also serve different purposes.

Let us break the differences down to the beginnings, the ingredients used in the two spice blends, their cooking purpose and the taste.

What Does Masala Mean and is it Different To Curry Masala?

As mentioned earlier, curry powder and garam masala powder are both spice blends. Meaning they are made using different types of spices.

But where does the word curry and Masala come from? Are they same or different?

Let’s begin with their origins first!

In terms of definition, ‘Curry’ is a generalised term used to simplify a type of dish for non-natives. 

Curry powder is the innovation of the Brits.

It’s a spice blend which the British tossed up together to reduce the complexity of spices used in Indian cooking, although the authenticity part may be debatable!

If you wish to learn more about its mysterious journey into becoming an inseparable part of Indian cooking you can do so in the post here.

‘Masala’, on the other hand, is the literal translation of ‘spices’ in Hindi.

It is also a term used for cooking the main base ingredients of an Indian dish.

Garam Masala Powder is an authentic and traditional spice blend used by every Indian either living in the subcontinent or outside!

You will never come across an Indian household (provided that they cook Indian regularly) without a Garam Masala stocked in their spice cabinet. (unless they run out of it)

Read what is Garam Masala, cooking uses, substitute and benefits

What Ingredients Are Used In Garam Masala VS Curry Masala?

Both the spices are Indian spice blends, which means they are made by combining different Indian spices.

However, like most Indian or any international spice blends, it’s difficult to specify the exact recipe.

This is because there is no set recipe for Garam Masala powder or Curry powder.

It is very rare to come across recipes that are exactly the same for making a homemade curry powder spice blend or garam masala or for that matter even commercially bought pre-mixed spices.

This infographic below will help in characterising and simplifying the most common spices used for making Garam Masala and Curry powder.

Infograph highlighting the difference between Curry Powder VS Garam Masala, Spices used and the use of garam masala and curry powder in cooking

You can easily share this image on your site by coping and pasting the code below. Please do me a favour and acknowledge my work 🙂

How Does Garam Masala and Curry Powder Taste?

‘Garam Masalais a Hindi word, which literally translates to ‘Hot Spice’.

Referring to the table above, you will notice that Garam Masala use spices that are sharp and robust, that is cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and in some recipes even nutmeg and peppercorn.

All these spices together give Garam Masala powder a very strong flavour with a slightly warming, sweet, pungent taste.

Curry powder, on the other hand, is made of milder spices. One of the main ingredients being Turmeric powder.

Turmeric powder in itself does not have much taste or flavour although very high in nutritional value.

Turmeric a mild spice. It is used in curry powder recipes to give a yellow tint to the dish without the need to add any additional spices.

The other spices used in larger quantity when compared to Garam Masala are fenugreek powder, cumin powder, coriander powder which is all sweet mild spices.

This makes curry powder milder to taste and not as overpowering as Garam Masala.

The Uses of Curry Powder and Garam Masala in Cooking 

An awareness of the flavour profiles of the two spices will help us better understand the use of Curry powder and Garam Masala in cooking.

The answer to your question of ‘is Garam Masala the same as Curry powder?’, is NO!

They are two separate spice blends.

Garam Masala can be used both during the cooking process or at the end to give the dish a finishing touch.

Adding and stirring Garam Masala at the end of cooking retains and enhances the flavour of the dish.

The key to using Garam Masala is that it should be sparingly used. Too much of it may be an overkill of flavours!

Since Curry powder is used as an Indian curry spice blend, it is used during the cooking process and added while you make the base sauce.

It’s also important to cook out the raw flavours of the pre-blended curry mix to avoid an unpleasant taste.

What are the Similarities Between Curry Powder and Garam Masala Powder?

If the two spices are so different, then why is it that so many people get confused about them?

The reason could be that both these spices have become synonymous to Indian food.

It is treated almost like Chinese 5 spice when you cook Chinese at home or like Cajun spice if its Spanish or Cajun-style cooking.

The classification of Curry powder and Garam Masala powder as an Indian spice blend confuses many.

This confusion causes them to use the spices in the wrong way while cooking.

The striking similarity between the two is that they are both spice blends and use almost the same spices, however, the quantity of mild spices such as turmeric, cumin and coriander is more in one than the other.

The content of spices in Garam Masala is more strong while Curry powder is made with milder spices.

Apart from this, there is no other relatable similarity.

Can You Substitute Curry Powder For Garam Masala?

The question is ‘Can you use Curry powder instead of Garam masala or vice versa?’

Referring to the table of ingredients above you will notice that both contain more or less that same spices.

The difference in the recipes of the spice blends is the quantity of each spice used.

Garam Masala powder contains stronger pungent spices like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom compared to curry powder, which have mild spices like turmeric, cumin, coriander, fenugreek.

This instantly gives both these spices different flavour profiles.

Because the flavour profile and taste of the two are different, in an ideal world it should not be used as a substitute.

But many people do, due to lack of a suitable alternative or they simply may be unaware of the subtle yet big difference between the two.

You may have come across recipes where they use both Curry powder and Garam Masala powder.

This is because the spices can be used together in a dish complimenting or highlighting the flavour.

The point to remember when using these two together is that you need to use them in moderation.

The closest substitute for curry powder will be a mix of turmeric, coriander powder and cumin powder.

While the best substitute for Garam masala it will be cardamon, cloves and cinnamon, either blended together as a powder or simply crushed and put whole.

So, my advice to you is NOT to use them as substitutes for the other.

If, however you are stuck for better options then you can add a tsp of curry powder instead of Garam masala.

Substituting Garam Masala for curry powder is not ideal since it is a stronger spice.

My tip to substitute curry powder is to add 1/2 tsp of Garam Masala powder with 1 tsp each of cumin powder, coriander powder and turmeric powder.

 Read The List of Best Spice Substitute for Hard to Find Indian Spices

Where to Buy Garam Masala And Curry Powder?

Both these spices are readily available in most large supermarkets these days. Although you may find Curry powder to be the more popular of the two when it comes to shelf stocking.

Your Local Indian store or ethnic store will surely have both the spices.

Other than the traditional stores you can also order them online. Here is a list of few online store options for you:

US Online Stores

Click image to buy
curry powder online
Garam Masala buy online
Click image to buy Garam Masala online
Switzerland & Europe Online Store 

Curry powder buy online

Gewuerzland Hot Curry Powder 80 gm packed fresh ready to deliver

Price: Euro 3.40 Buy now

Buy Garam Masala online

Gewuerzland  Garam Masala Powder 80 gm packed fresh ready to deliver

Price: Euro 3.40 Buy now

To Conclude

When it comes to buying and using Curry powder and Garam Masala it’s important to remember that both have different flavour and taste.

Curry powder should be added during the cooking process while Garam Masala powder can be used both as a flavour enhancer at the end of cooking and/or during cooking.

They should not be confused as go-to spice blend for making all Indian dishes.

They are used to make certain dishes either adding just one of the blends to the dish or both in moderation.

Over to you

Let me know if this post has helped in clarifying some of the confusion you may have had working with these two spices.

If there are any other spices that confuses you then feel free to drop in a line.  I will surely write something about it.

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