I bet you had no clue or idea (kind of like me) that the word Garam actually means heat or hot. And when we say hot, not the usual chilly hot but rather a hot that makes you feel all warm inside by raising the metabolism of the body.
Masala on the other hand means spices, which would explain the various spices that are blended together to come up with garam masala. Garam masala is a spice that is native to India, a country where a curry without garam masala in it is considered basically incomplete and cannot be served.
The flavor is versatile, you know, warm, sweet, hot, and all those nice things because of the different spices present in it. You have the pepper that brings the heat, cinnamon that sprinkles a bit of sweetness, coriander comes in with the mild lemony zest, nutmeg seals the deal with the complexity and so much more.
All these spices used in garam masala play perfectly together and quite literally make garam masala what it is. The versatility continues as garam masala can be used in different forms. It can come as a powder but can also be made into a paste mixed with vinegar, water, and coconut milk.
Normally spices are added while cooking but with garam masala and it being unique, you can sprinkle it in at the end. But supposing you do not have it in your pantry, keep calm as this article is exactly what you need. Although they will not be the real deal, you can always substitute garam masala with curry powder, allspice and cumin, sambhar masala, and in extreme cases, even with pumpkin spice.
And, let us keep in mind that all manner of health benefits is not lost on garam masala. Some of the health benefits of garam masala are that it helps in digestion, improves immunity, helps maintain cholesterol levels, provides strong antioxidants, and regulates blood pressure.
Garam masala even goes the mile in improving heart health, reduces inflammation, even lowers blood sugar in individuals, and, get this, may even prevent tumor growth. How wild and amazing is that?
How to Make Garam Masala
The preparation of garam masala varies. There is definitely no one recipe that fits all. The ingredients vary based on region, individual preferences, and in some cases family traditions where a recipe is passed on from one generation to the next.
An authentic garam masala blend can have over twenty ingredients. It uses whole spices that need to be toasted and ground.
This is a simple, basic recipe that can be adjusted based on your own preferred tastes. To simplify, use already ground spices instead of whole spices that would require grinding. A good garam masala recipe incorporates a mix of sweet, hot savory ingredients.
- 1 tablespoon of ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons of ground cardamom
- ½ a teaspoon of ground nutmeg
- ½ a teaspoon of ground cloves
- 2 teaspoons of ground coriander
- 1 and a ½ teaspoons of ground cinnamon
- ¼- ½ teaspoons of cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1 teaspoon of ground pepper
Mix all the above spices in a bowl. Place in an airtight container or jar and store away in a cool, dry place. When ready to use, lightly dry toast the amount called for in a recipe over medium heat. Stir frequently until fragrant. This enhances the flavor of the masala.
Remember you can always change up the ingredients depending on your preference or what is readily available to you. So the next time you are feeling adventurous, run out of garam masala and can’t access it, try the recipe! It’s quick and easy.
Where to Buy Garam Masala
In most large supermarkets garam masala is readily available due to its increased popularity. Your local grocery store may not always have it in stock.
In such a scenario, you can always order from online vendors. However, one place you can be sure to always pick some garam masala for yourself is at an Indian store.
Garam Masala Substitutes
Garam Masala is a complex spice blend that contains different flavors. Finding a substitute to replicate the exact flavor combination is close to impossible, especially with using just one ingredient.
However, using a blend of different ingredients would be your best bet. Here are some alternatives you can use to ensure you still enjoy your meal with a hint of the sweet garam masala flavor.
Masala Curry Powder
Just like garam masala, curry powder is a staple in Indian cuisine and a blend of different spices. It has turmeric, chili pepper, cumin, coriander, ginger, and curry leaf.
Some of its ingredients are similar to those in garam masala. It is added as a seasoning while cooking. In comparison to garam masala, it’s milder (both in sweetness and spiciness) but can still work as a substitute, adding some good flavor and depth to your curry dishes.
Unlike garam masala, curry powder can’t be sprinkled on top of food at the end of cooking. When using as an alternative, add the same amount of curry powder as garam masala required in your recipe.
Allspice & Cumin
These are spices you probably have in your pantry that would make a quick and easy substitute.
Allspice also is known as Jamaican pepper or new spice is a blend of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and pepper.
Its flavor mixed with the earthy and warm flavor of cumin is slightly similar to that of garam masala. To make a substitute for garam masala, combine one-part cumin with a quarter part allspice and you are good to go.
Chaat masala is a cooling blend of spices while garam masala is a warming blend. Despite these differences, when in a pinch chaat masala could still work as an alternative to garam masala.
It has dry mango powder, mint leaves, cumin, coriander seeds, ginger, nutmeg, black salt, and carom seeds. These ingredients deliver a mix of spicy, salty, and sweet flavors to your dish.
As a substitute, use the same amount of chaat masala as garam masala. However, add it gradually as you taste your food to ensure the flavor is not overwhelming.
Sambhar Masala is a blend of spices rich in flavor and aroma with a twist. In addition to the ground whole spices, lentils too are roasted, ground, and added to the mix.
Some of the ingredients in it are seeds (fenugreek, coriander, cumin, mustard), curry leaves, red chilies, black pepper, urad dal, and chana dal.
Unfortunately, it might not be readily available at your local grocery store. However, using the ingredients listed above you can easily prepare your own sambar masala at home.
- Separately dry roast each of the ingredients on a low flame.
- Add to a grinder and grind to make a fine powder.
- Allow to cool completely and store in airtight glass jars or containers. If refrigerated it can last for up to six months and up to three months long at room temperature.
When using it as an alternative to garam masala add gradually as you taste your food.
Well, although they are not perfect alternatives, the following blends of spices can be used in place of garam masala for some much-needed flavor for your meals.
Blend of individual ingredients.
Blend three parts coriander and cinnamon powder with one part cumin and cloves powder and a half part cardamom and pepper powder.
Once you have your blend done, proceed to gradually add this blended mixture to your curries as a substitute. The mix of flavors ought to give your food a warm, sweet, and spicy flavor almost similar to that of garam masala.
It is generally used in pumpkin pies but when you have no other option at hand, it can be used as an alternative in vegetable-based dishes thanks to its warm flavor similar to that of garam masala.
Ras el Hanout.
This is basically a spice mix native to North Africa which, much like garam masala, is a unique combination of several different spices.
The blend of spices in Ras el Hanout varies and can be adjusted depending on one’s personal or family preference.
Using it as a substitute when you are all out of garam masala will definitely bring an added flavor and depth to your dishes and meals. Ras el Hanout is great for use in meats and vegetables.
As a final alternative, you can choose to go the wild route and be adventurous. You can experiment with blending different spices that you have in your pantry.
You might just come up with a combination that you might actually prefer as a substitute than the ones listed above. You never know, you just may be having the next best thing.
By all means, this list does not mean that the substitutes will be better than the real deal.
However, they will keep your meals from being bland and draw you as close as possible to that garam masala flavor that you love.