Indian Essentials: What is Garam Masala? | How to Make Garam Masala

Garam Masala

If you are even the smallest bit familiar with Indian food, you will have heard of Garam Masala. It is a wonderfully warm and versatile mix of spices used in a range of Indian dishes. Not necessarily spicy hot, it consists of spices that warm and nourish the body, such as cardamom, cloves and cinnamon.

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Garam Masala is a mixture of spices, and the combinations vary with each household. It is basically Persian in origin, but is now indispensable in North Indian cuisine. Garam means hot in Hindi and Masala means spice mix, so the mixture of spices are traditionally those that heat the body according to the ayurvedic system of medicine.

A teaspoon of Garam Masala gives a North Indian character to any dish – try it with Basmati rice, or sprinkle it over cooked dishes. Occasionally Garam Masala spices are used whole. Try a rice in whic you grind only the nutmeg and add the other spices into the rice water as it boils.

Curry Powder | Garam Masala | Heat in The Kitchen

Generally, but not always, Garam Masala is sprinkled over food towards the end of the cooking to retain its aroma. The garam masala spices can also be used whole, but more traditionally, they are ground together in a mortar and pestle. If you don’t have one, a blender or spice grinder will do. I prefer the taste from grinding, but it is certainly Ok to use a more mechanical method. I often use my spice grinder, especially when in a hurry.

Garam Masala Blends

There are as many Garam Masala recipes as households in India. Here are some for you to choose from. If you have any others that you use, please add them in the comments.

Different Garam Masala recipes highlight different spices, for example, some contain predominately coriander, others perhaps highlight nutmeg.

How to select a mix?

The first time that you make Garam Masala, you may not have a large range of ingredients in your pantry – select a recipe that most closely matches your available ingredients. After that, visit your Indian shop or local spice supplier and add various spices to you pantry cupboard.

How to make the mix?

Dry roast all ingredients except for the black cardamon. Dry roast them separately in a kadhai (Indian wok) or frying pan, shaking the pan frequently, until the are starting to brown and a wonderful spicy aroma arises. Be careful not to burn. Mix together the whole ingredients and store in an air-tight container in the fridge.

When required, grind the whole roasted masala ingredients to a fine powder in a mortar, spice grinder or blender, and use as directed in the recipe. Store in an airtight jar.

Curry Powder | Garam Masala | Heat in The Kitchen

The Difference between Home Made and Store Bought Garam Masala

The spices used in Garam Masala are all very aromatic as well. But often when you buy Garam Masala off the shelf, the commercial mixtures often cut down on the more expensive cardamom and fill up with the cheaper coriander and cumin. So there is no better reason to make your own. It is a wonderful process and the results are marvellous. If you have never tasted a home made spice powder, this is your chance.

Garam Masala |Spices | A Life Time of Cooking

The home made one is darker with a much deeper aroma than the store bought one. The Store Bought one has hardly any aroma at all. The taste is significantly different.

The recipes for Garam Masala

  • (Hyderabadi) Cinnamon, Peppercorns, Cloves, Green Cardamom, Indian Bayleaf, Black Cardamom, Nutmeg, Mace, Fennel Seeds.
  • (Simple) Cinnamon, Peppercorns, Cloves, Green Cardamom, Indian Bayleaf, Cumin Seeds.
  • (VERY Simple) Cinnamon, Cloves, Green Cardamom, Black Cardamom.
  • (Anglo-Indian) 5 cm piece Cinnamon, 1 Tblspn Peppercorns, 1 Tblspn Cloves, 2 tspn Green Cardamom pods, shelled, 0.5 tspn grated Nutmeg, 0.5 tspn Mace powder. Mix, store in an airtight container and grind as required.
  • (Bharuchi) Cinnamon, Peppercorns, Cloves, Green Cardamom, Nutmeg, Mace , Star Anise.
  • (Dhansakh) Cinnamon, Peppercorns, Cloves, Green Cardamom, Cumin Seeds, Ajwain, Peppercorns, dried fenugreek leaves, curry leaves, Indian Bayleaf, Black Cumin Seeds.
  • (Madhur Jaffrey’s) 5 cm piece Cinnamon, 1 tspn Peppercorns, 1 tspn Cloves, 1 Tblspn Green Cardamom, 1 tspn  Black Cumin Seeds (shar jeera), 1/3 Nutmeg pod grated, 1 curl Mace
  • (Punjabi) Coriander Seed (5 Tblspn), Cumin Seeds (3 Tblspn), Peppercorns (Black, 2.5 Tblspn), Black Cardamom (2.5 Tblspn), Green Cardamom (1.5 Tblspn), Cinnamon (5 cm), Cloves (4 – 5), Nutmeg (0.2 pod) (or replace cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg with ground ginger – 10g)
  • (Punjabi) 25g cumin seeds; 20g black cardamon; 20g black peppercorns; 11g green cardamon pods; 10g coriander seeds; 10g fennel seeds; 6g cloves; approx 12cm of cinnamon sticks; 6g mace; 6g black cumin seeds (kalonji) 5g Indian bay leaves (teja pat); 5 g dried rose petals; 1 scant Tblspn ground ginger; 1 small nutmeg, grated
  • (simple Punjabi) 45g green cardamon pods; 30g cumin seeds; 30g black peppercorns; 12cm of cinnamon sticks; 5g cloves; 0.5 whole nutmeg, grated
  • (Bengali Garam Masala) 1 Tblspn Black Peppercorns, 1 Tblspn White Peppercorns (optional), 15 Cloves, 4 sticks Cinnamon, seeds from 20 Cardamom pods, 2 Tblspn Cumin Seeds, 5 Tblspn Coriander seeds. Nigella seeds can be added.
  • (Kashmiri Garam Masala) 3 Tblspn Nigella Seeds, 2 Tblspn Black Peppercorns, 1 Tblspn Caraway Seeds, 24 cloves, 15 black cardamom, 25 mace blades, 0.5 Tblspn grated nutmeg, 0.5 Tblspn ground cinnamon
  • (My Bombay’s Kitchen’s Parsi Garam Masala) 2 Tblspn cardamon pods, 2 sticks cinnamon, 1 tspn regular cumin seeds or kala jira, 1 tspn whole cloves, 1 tspn black peppercorns, 0.25 whole nutmeg.
  • (Ganga’s Masala) 3 tspn Nigella seeds, 2 tspn Black Peppercorns, 1 tspn Fennel seeds, 10 Cloves, seeds from 5 Black Cardamom pods, seeds from 5 Green Cadamom pods, 5 Mace blades, 1/3 Nutmeg pod, 1 Cinnamon stick, 3 tspn Cumin, 1.5 Tbslpn Coriander


This has been cross-posted with our sister site A Life Time of Cooking, to be part of our Indian Essentials series here.

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