90 % of Indian recipes will have this spice listed on their ingredients list? But What is Garam Masala and Why is it so important for Indian Cooking?
What Is Garam Masala Powder?
Garam Masala is to Indian cuisine what basil is to Italian food, indispensable and traditional.
It’s a combination of many different spices, blended together to make a traditional Indian spice mix.
You will find Garam Masala Powder in every single Indian kitchen.
A fascinating fact about this must-have Indian spice is that although it is used in every Indian household, each region, state and household have their very own unique recipe.
It is very rare to come across a Garam Masala recipe which has the same ingredients or similar quantity of spices.
Garam Masala powder is known as the King of Indian spices, as it rules over all the other spices and you simply cannot do without it.
What Spices Are In Garam Masala?
As mentioned no two recipes of making Garam Masala is similar, other than if you buy a particular brand.
In fact, just like the different regional Indian cuisines, Garam masala recipes involving the use of different types of spices also differs from state to state.
The most common or basic spices used to make Garam masala powder regardless of regional boundaries are:
- cumin, to name a few.
They can range from a mix of only 3 spices (like the Bengal Garam Masala powder) or up to 25 spices (typically the Northern Indian region).
There is no wrong or right way to make or buy Garam masala powder.
It’s up to your personal or household preference.
What Does ‘Garam Masala’ Mean?
‘Garam’ is an Indian word for ‘Hot’ and ‘Masala’ means ‘Spice’.
This literally translates to ‘hot Spice’.
The interesting part is that although ‘Garam Masala’ means ‘hot spice’, funnily enough, there is no chilli powder used in any Garam Masala recipe.
Its the combination of various spices that renders this spice its spicy edge making it a warm spice.
What Is Garam Masala Known As in Different Languages?
This is where everyone learns to speak at least one Indian or to be more specific ‘Hindi’ word.
Garam Masala is a universal name for the spice in any language even in English.
It does not have any translated version in any language.
It’s simple and short without any complications. ( well at least verbally 🙂
What Does Garam Masala Taste Like?
As the name suggests, Garam Masala is a warming spice with a sharp, pungent flavour.
Since there is no set recipe for this traditional spice blend, the flavour profile too tends to vary.
Some Garam Masala powder is more robust and strong compared to others.
When classified into the taste category of spices, it comes under the pungent category.
The use of cinnamon and cardamom makes the spice blend smell sweet.
But don’t let that fool you into believing that it is a sweet spice.
It has a slightly bitter after taste and so must be very cautiously used in dishes.
The Uses of Garam Masala Powder In Cooking
I always advise being watchful when using Garam Masala powder in recipes.
Since it is a spice blend of other warming spices it can be very overpowering if used more than the required amount.
One of my tips is to stick to using 1/2 to 2 tsp of this powder if making a dish serving up to 6 people.
Garam Masala can be added during the cooking process directly into the dish while making the base sauce or in the end as one of the last steps to cooking.
Although an Indian spice blend, you can use Garam Masala for making soups, stews, stir-fries and other savoury dishes.
Add it to your regular omelette, coleslaw, salad, dips or mayonnaise and give it a spicy twist.
Garam Masala powder can also be used in adding for making marinades or rubs.
Difference Between Garam Masala and Curry Powder
There are been many times during my cooking classes that the attendees have confused themselves with Garam Masala VS Curry powder.
Both the spices are two different Indian spice blends and SHOULD NOT be used together if you do not wish to overpower your dish.
While Garam Masala powder is a traditional essential Indian spice, Curry powder is the most globally accepted commercial international spice blend for cooking Indian food.
I have explained the difference between the two in detail here and advise you to read it to ensure you are using the two spice blends correctly when cooking.
Benefits of Garam Masala Powder
Fights Diabetes – Almost all garam masala powder recipe contains cinnamon which helps to keep blood pressure under control. With the added benefit of other spices, this spice blend is said to assist with maintaining sugar levels.
Aids digestion – Since Garam masala powder is a warming spice, it increases the body temperature which in turn helps to digest food better.
Improves Constipation – Due to its digestive quality, adding Garam masala to meals can help in curing constipation by releasing digestive enzymes.
Where to Buy Best Garam Masala Powder
There are many different brands selling Garam Masala.
Even a regular supermarket stores jars or packs of this King of Indian spices.
Since the ingredients and quantity of spices used in each blend can differ so does the taste.
Choosing a blend that you like is a personal preference.
It is my observation and experience, I feel most Garam masala spice blend tend to have an overpowering smell of cinnamon.
It is not my most favourite type of blend.
After buying and using a few different brands, I can recommend the following brands which have a good balance of taste and flavour along with freshness.
The best brand to buy Garam Masala in the UK, that I liked is this blend from Waitrose.
It uses some of the traditional spices such as cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and cardamom making is a strong blend.
Since the blend does not have any cumin or coriander added to it, you can use it for making Indian Masala Chai. (spice tea) as well.
A little goes a long way if using this Garam Masala powder from Waitrose.
In the US, the two brands I recommend tying products from are:
Seasoned Pioneers and Raw Spice Bar.
This Garam Masala Spice Blend from Seasoned Pioneers has some strong spices and need to be used sparingly. The flavour is strong and more pungent without being too overpowering if used correctly.
The Spice blend from Raw Spice Bar is equally good and uses more spices compared to the other brands. Since the quantity of each individual spice used is comparatively less the taste is well balanced and rounded.
If it is the popular household brand that you are looking for then this Garam Masala Powder from East End is one of the best selling brands available in any country.
I would recommend buying a Jar or resealable pack as opposed to buying it lose.
How to Store Garam Masala Powder
Due to the nature of the different spices used, Garam Masala may lose its freshness if not stored correctly.
Keep it in an airtight container away from light and heat.
Well stored Garam Masala will keep its character and flavour for almost a year.
Best Food and Spice Combination
As it is a spice blend, it can be used with almost all kinds of food and other spices.
Best food pairing: beans, cauliflower, chicken, curry, couscous, eggplant, lamb, lentils, meat, peas, potatoes, rice, soups, stews
Best spice pairing: bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, dry chilies, mustard seeds, mace
Spice Substitute for Garam Masala
Due to the diversity in the spice mix, there is no set flavour profile for Garam Masala and so it is difficult to replicate its taste.
Few spices that can be used in lieu of Garam Masala is cumin powder, coriander powder, cinnamon powder or even curry powder however in moderation.
Homemade Garam Masala Recipe
To make 1/2 cup (65 gms) of Garam Masala Powder.
Cumin seeds – 2 tbsp
Coriander seeds – 2 tbsp
Cardamon pods – 8
Cinnamon Stick – 1 inch stick
Cloves – 8
Nutmeg – 1/2 piece
Put all the whole spices in a warm pan and gently bloom it without any oil for 1 – 2 minutes.
Remove from heat and let it cool.
Once cool grind into a powder and store in an airtight container.
PS – If you find it difficult to buy or use whole spices, you can buy the powdered version of all the spices described above and mix it in the same ratio.
Here is another recipe along with a video for making Garam Masala at home.
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Easy Recipes with Garam Masala Powder
Your Views and Recipes
Please do leave your comment if you think I may have missed out on something.
I love to hear your kitchen adventures so please share any recipes based on Garam Masala that you love.
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