Garam Masala

January 24, 2021

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A delicious homemade Garam Masala recipe! It’s a well balanced, richly flavorful spice blend that’s truly a queen of spices. It’s one of the easiest ways to build up and infuse an abundance of flavor into a dish, and when you make it from scratch you’ll never want to use store-bought again!

Garam masala spice blend in a glass jar set over a plate with whole spices next to it.

What is Garam Masala

Garam masala is an aromatic blend of ground spices used in Indian, Pakistani, Afghan, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, and Sri Lankan cuisines. The most common type originated from Northern India.

It is used to season and bring complex flavor to curries, meat and fish dishes, lentil and vegetarian dishes, soups and more.

While you can usually find garam masala in a pre-mixed spice blend by the other spices in the baking isle at your local grocery store I highly recommend making it yourself at home. Why? It has a lot more flavor, you can control the amount of each spice that goes into it (store-bought blends vary widely in spices used and amounts), and you can also control heat.

Some store-bought blends in my opinion have way too much of one spice and lack another. Some are so peppery they don’t leave a whole lot of room to taste much else.

Homemade spice blends, such as this, may take a little bit of extra effort but I promise you they are worth it!

When you are short on time, or if you are having a hard time finding whole spices I’ve also included measurements for a fast and easy recipe using using pre-ground spices.

If possible though I highly recommend trying the whole and freshly ground, they create that practically irreplaceable flavor.

Garam masala spice blend shown up close in a bowl with a small spoon.

What does Garam Masala taste like?

Garam masala tastes warm and earthy, lightly sweet, peppery and somewhat spicy, with hints of floral notes.

The taste can vary from blend to blend depending on various spices and ratios of each added. For or instance, here I like to add fennel seeds which adds faint hints of black licorice and bay leaves that add an ever so light herbal taste. They aren’t always typical but I like that extra something.

Spice Drawer

Recommended Spice Storage

  • Garam masala should be stored in a well sealed airtight container, in a cool dry place away from sunlight.
  • For optimal flavor it should be used within 6 months.
  • You can up-cycle and use an old empty spice jars, or if you don’t have any you can buy the same spice jar set I have HERE (as pictured above). It includes tons of pre-printed labels (and plenty of blank labels too).
  • I recently organized my spice drawer and bought this expandable spice drawer rack too HERE, if you’re interested (just be sure to measure to ensure it will fit). It’s been a game changer in quickly finding the spices I need for cooking.

Difference Between Garam Masala and Curry Powder

  • While they both commonly use similar spices such as coriander, cumin and cinnamon they each have their own various spices included.
  • The biggest difference is that curry powder includes that vibrantly yellow turmeric whereas garam masala does not. It usually includes spices like mustard and ginger as well.

Rectangular white platter with whole spices used to make garam masala. Includes cumin seed, coriander seed, cardamom pods, whole cloves, red peppers, fennel seeds, whole nutmeg, cinnamon sticks, black peppercorn and bay leaves.

What is Garam Masala Made of?

This spice blend varies a bit by region. Here are the spices I use:

  • Coriander seeds
  • Cumin seeds
  • Black peppercorn
  • Whole cloves
  • Green cardamom (seeds only, discard pods)
  • Fennel seeds
  • Cinnamon sticks
  • Bay leaves
  • Whole nutmeg
  • Red pepper (whole or flakes, optional)

Other spices you may find in garam masala are mace, allspice, star anise and white or black cardamom.

Collage of two images showing spices in a skillet before and after toasting.

Recommended Spice Grinder

  • I have this inexpensive Krups coffee/spice grinder HERE. You can usually find it around $20 and it’s a kitchen tool that works like a champ. The only small drawback is that you have to grind smaller batches. Here it probably could have fit in one but I think two batches allows more room to grind evenly.
  • While you can also use a mortar and pestle to crush everything up, it will just take more effort and time. I think it’s worth the investment to buy an electric spice grinder.

Collage of two photos showing garam masala in spice grinder before and after grinding.

How to Make Homemade Garam Masala and Tips

WHOLE SPICES

  • Toast whole spices in a skillet for 1 – 2 minutes until fragrant. Careful not to burn.
  • Let cool (otherwise the steam and moisture will clump up the spices when grinding).
  • Grind spices in a spice grinder until finely ground (it should take about 30 seconds).
  • Work in batches if spice grinder is on the small side.
  • Stir spices in grinder to make sure there aren’t any clumps of whole spices left. If there are just continue to grind a little longer.

PRE-GROUND SPICES

  • For pre-ground spices all you need to do is mix spices together in a bowl.
  • Ground fennel seed is harder to come by so I usually just crush up whole fennel seeds in a bag using a meat mallet until they are fine.

Overhead photo of homemade garam masala spice blend in a bowl with a spoon.

Is There a Substitute for Garam Masala?

  • You’re absolute best option when a recipe calls for garam masala is to use garam masala. You can easily make your own blend as directed here using pre-ground spices.
  • While you could substitute curry powder or chaat masala (in smaller amounts) the flavors just won’t be quite the same since they are different blends of spices and will yield different flavors.

Garam masala pre-ground spices in a bowl before mixing.

More Tasty Indian Favorites to Try

Garam masala spice blend in a glass jar set over a plate with whole spices next to it.
5 from 4 votes

Garam Masala

A well balanced, richly flavorful spice blend that's truly a queen of spices and perfect for Indian recipes! It's one of the easiest ways to build up and infuse an abundance of flavor in a dish, and when you make it from scratch you'll never want to use store-bought again.
See notes for pre-ground spices measurements and method.
Servings: 7 Tbsp (approx.)

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2 Tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 Tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 Tbsp black peppercorn
  • 2 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1 1/2 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tsp green cardamom seeds*
  • 2 (2-inch each) cinnamon sticks, roughly broken with a meat mallet
  • 4 bay leaves, roughly broken
  • 1/2 piece of a whole nutmeg, roughly broken with a meat mallet
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or 1 dried red chili pepper stem removed, roughly broken (optional for spicy heat)

Instructions

  • Heat a 12-inch skillet over medium heat.
  • Add spices to skillet and saute 1 - 2 minutes until toasted and fragrant.
  • Transfer to a bowl and let cool.
  • Pour spices into a spice grinder. Work in two batches adding half at a time if your grinder is small.
  • Pulse until finely ground. Stop and stir mixture or shake grinder occasionally to ensure even grinding.
  • Store in an airtight container. Preferably use within 6 months.

Notes

  • *To remove seeds from the pod/husk just smash with the flat side of a bigger knife - similar to smashing a garlic clove to remove the skin. The seeds should fall out easily upon smashing.
  • You can also add 1 star anise to the recipe if you can find them. They're just a little harder to come by.

Pre-Ground Spices

  • 2 Tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 Tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground fennel seed (or whole fennel seeds that have been finely crushed with a meat mallet)
  • 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper 
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional)
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