What Is Garam Masala?

Contributor
The secret to Indian cuisine

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

Whether on a takeout menu, at the local supermarket, or at a favorite Indian restaurant, we’ve all looked at “garam masala” and wondered, “What is this mysterious ingredient that makes curry so good?” Simply put, it’s a spice mix.

Derived from the Urdu word for “hot spice,” garam masala is a blend of toasted spices. Used throughout India, this blend creates the mild flavor and warm aroma that makes us cozy up to Indian food on a dreary day. (Photo courtesy of Jess Kapadia)

This complex seasoning can contain up to 12 different spices, and combinations vary from region to region. One can easily find black pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, chile, and coriander among the mix. Despite the sophisticated flavor that comes from garam masala, it is easy to make at home. Gently toast each of the spices, grind them together, and store in a dry area. Don’t feel like you have the time to blend? Don’t worry, it can be easily found at specialty spice stores or even the local supermarket.

Not to be confused with masala chai (spiced tea), garam masala is best used in savory applications — on spice rubs for meat or mixed with liquid to form a sauce, and it’s also a great addition to rice or lentils. Try not to use a whole bunch all at once. A little a sprinkle at the end adds an aromatic, exotic finish to any dish.

Click here to see the Sweet Potato Curry with Honeyed Yogurt Sauce Recipe.

So the next time you crave some chicken masala, make your own blend of this mysterious ingredient and take an exotic journey to India in the comfort of your own kitchen.