Culinary Arts

What Is Garam Masala? Homemade Garam Masala Spice Blend Recipe and How to Cook With Garam Masala

Written by MasterClass

May 9, 2019 • 2 min read

Making your own garam masala spice blend can feel like an extra step in cooking, but it can make the difference between a bland tasting chicken curry and one that is ultra flavorful—giving your dish that extra oomph. Store-bought versions have usually lost their flavor while sitting on shelves, which makes garam masala a spice blend that is worth making at home.

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What Is Garam Masala?

Garam masala is a spice blend widely used in Indian cuisine, from curries and lentil dishes to soups. The whole spices of cinnamon, mace, peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and cardamon pods are typically toasted in a pan to release their aromatic flavors, then ground to a powder. The name for this blend translates to “warming spices,” meant to warm the body and increase metabolism.

What Does Garam Masala Taste Like?

Garam masala is a complex medley of spices including sweet cinnamon, spicy heat from peppercorns, tanginess from coriander, earthy cumin, and fragrant cardamom. There is no single garam masala recipe, rather the ingredients change according to region and cook. In Northern India, garam masala will be aromatic and mild, while the farther south you travel in India, the hotter the spices will become.

Where Does Garam Masala Come From?

The most common type of garam masala originated from Northern India, where cold winters called for spices with a warming quality. The spice is used in most regions of India as well as in Pakistan and Iran.

What Spices Are in Garam Masala?

Garam Masala is a blend of spices containing:

  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Green cardamom pods
  • Black peppercorns
  • Coriander seeds
  • Cumin seeds
  • Mace (a relative of nutmeg)
  • Bay leaves

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

Both garam masala and curry powder are used to add flavor and color to dishes. One of the biggest differences between the two is that garam masala doesn’t contain tumeric, which is one of the main ingredients in curry powder, imbuing dishes with a yellow hue. Garam masala is usually used as a final seasoning in a dish, stirred in at the end of the cooking time, while curry powder is used earlier in the process.

3 Common Substitutes for Garam Masala

If you’re short on all the spices that go into making garam masala, try these substitutes instead:

  1. Curry powder: Use curry powder as a substitute, swapping garam masala entirely in your recipe. You won’t get the same warming spices, but the flavor of curry powder will work well in most Indian dishes.
  2. Allspice and Cumin: Combine 4 parts ground cumin with 1 part allspice, for an easy substitute when you’re in a hurry.
  3. Chaat Masala: Try using chaat masala as a substitute. It’s another Indian spice mix that contains amchoor, cumin, coriander, ginger, black pepper, asafoetida, salt, and chili. Use it in smaller quantities, adding slowly to make sure the spice doesn’t overpower your dish.

3 Recipes With Garam Masala

  • Chana masala. Chana masala is an Indian vegetarian stew featuring creamy chickpeas cooked in a fragrant and spicy tomato sauce anchored by a blend of spices called garam masala. Find the recipe here.
  • Chicken tikka masala. Chicken tikka masala is a popular Indian dish featuring tender, spice-marinated roasted chicken in a creamy curry sauce. Find the recipe here.
  • Indian butter chicken. Indian butter chicken is pieces of tandoori chicken cooked in a tangy, velveteen tomato paste or tomato sauce. Find the recipe here.

Homemade Garam Masala Spice Mix

Ingredient Checklist

Total Time 15 min | Cook Time 10 min | Prep Time 5 min

  • 3-inch cinnamon stick, broken up
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons green cardamom seeds, removed from green pods
  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon ground mace (or grated nutmeg)
  • 1 bay leaf
  1. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and toast the cinnamon, peppercorns, and cardamom, coriander, and cumin seeds for about 10 minutes, stirring often until fragrant and toasted. Let cool.
  2. Combine with remaining spices and grind in a spice or coffee grinder. Let cool, then store in an airtight container.