Authentic Garam Masala

Garam Masala is a wonderfully versatile Indian seasoning blend that will bring an incredible depth of flavor to a large variety of dishes.  The different spices play their own unique part in delivering a phenomenal symphony of flavors.  Try this authentic garam masala recipe and you’ll never use store-bought again!

garam masala recipe homemade authentic traditional best

What is Garam Masala?

Garam Masala is a blend of ground spices that is popular in Indian cuisine.  From Hindi for “hot” or “heat” (garam) and “mixed spices” (masala), the term “heat” doesn’t mean spicy hot but rather refers to the Ayurvedic concept of warming spices that are meant elevate the body’s temperature and increase metabolism.   Per Ayurvedic tradition food should not only taste delicious but also deliver health benefits.

Garam masala blends are wide and varied depending on which region of India you’re in.  And families and individual all have their own way of making it.  Our garam masala recipe incorporates the spices you will find in many traditional blends.  

garam masala recipe best homemade Indian authentic traditional

What Spices are in Garam Masala?

Again, recipes vary greatly but it will typically include a majority, most, or all of the following spices:  Coriander, cumin, peppercorns, green cardamom, black cardamom, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg (sometimes mace), curry leaves and star anise.  This blend is believed to have originated in North India where the blends focus on aromatic and “sweet” spices.  As you move further south on the sub-continent red chilies are also occasionally added for some heat.

The different spices play their own unique part in delivering a magical symphony of flavors:  Cloves and cinnamon add sweetness, coriander exudes a lemony flavor, cumin adds an earthy, nutty and slightly bitter undertone, peppercorns contribute heat, cardamom adds a hint of spicy mint, nutmeg adds a wonderful complexity, and so on.  Each spice possesses its own unique flavor characteristics, both complementing and contrasting each other to create a well-rounded seasoning blend that’s full of flavor and will contribute incredible depth to your Indian dishes.

Can I Make Substitutions?

Absolutely.  There is no “one” garam masala recipe and you can alter it according to your particular tastes as well as the availability of the spices.  Feel free to use our blend as a guideline for typical spices used in garam masala and tweak it according to your own preferences, both the spices themselves and the ratios.

garam masala recipe best homemade Indian traditional authentic spices seasoning

How to Use Garam Masala

Garam masala is a very versatile Indian seasoning blend and you’ll find it called for in both meat and vegetarian dishes.  In my opinion India makes some of the best vegetarian dishes because the fragrant and flavorful spices bring even the simplest of foods to life.

It is used both for its flavor and its aroma characteristics and as such is often added towards the end of the cooking process (sometimes a little is also sprinkled on top).  It’s sometimes used on its own but is more often combined with additional individual spices.  As with most seasonings, making it fresh from toasted ground spices and using it within a few days will give you the best possible flavor.

Here are just a few things you can add it to:

  • Meats, poultry and seafood
  • Vegetables
  • Roasted squash
  • Legumes and lentils
  • Grains
  • Dry rub for grilling
  • Soups and stews
  • Curries
  • Marinades and sauces
  • Scrambled eggs
  • Paneer
  • Yogurt dips
  • Salad dressings
  • Spiced nuts
  • Add some to the dough of homemade bread
  • Add some to cookies and cakes for a fun flavor twist

garam masala recipe homemade authentic traditional best

Garam Masala vs Curry Powder

This one might catch you by surprise but the first answer is garam masala is an authentic Indian spice blend used throughout the sub-continent whereas curry powder is a western invention.  You won’t find any traditional Indian cookbooks that call for “curry powder.”  Instead they will call for individual spices and garam masala.

But origin differences aside, there are other distinct differences between the two spice blends.  Curry powder is heavily turmeric-based, gives dishes an orange color as a result, and is often much spicier.  In contrast garam masala uses no turmeric and is sweeter in flavor, relying more heavily on cinnamon, cloves, star anise, nutmeg and/or mace.

Whereas garam masala is meant to be used more as a “finishing spice” added towards or at the end, curry powder is added at or near the beginning as part of the cooking process.  The two have significantly different flavor profiles, serve different purposes and are not meant to be used interchangeably, though many dishes of western tradition will call for both of them.

How Long Does Garam Masala Keep?

The natural oils in the freshly ground spices lose their potency quickly so this blend is best made in small batches as you need them.  While it will technically last for many months its flavor weakens over time.  For best results keep the spice blend stored in an airtight jar in a dark place and use it up within a few weeks.

Indian spices garam masala

Garam Masala Recipe

Let’s get started!

Place the whole spices (reserving the ground nutmeg and mace) in a dry skillet and toast them over medium-high heat for several minutes, stirring frequently, until the spices are very fragrant and the lighter spices have become deeper golden in color.

Be careful not to scorch the spices or they will become very bitter.

Transfer the toasted spices to a bowl and let them cool completely.

toasting Indian spices in a skillet

Place the cooled spices in a coffee/ spice grinder or a blender along with the nutmeg and mace.  If you haven’t already done so it is easiest to grind the cinnamon if you break it into pieces.

Grind the spices until you get a fine powder.  Transfer the garam masala to an airtight jar and store in a dark place. Will keep for several months but for optimal flavor use them within a month or two.

This makes roughly 1/2 cup of garam masala.


grinding Indian spices

For more delicious seasoning blends be sure to try our:

Originally published on The Daring Gourmet December 20, 2019

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