Find out exactly what garam masala is and its components to make your own.

What is Garam Masala

In Indian cuisine, one particular must-have spice blend is garam masala. I love Indian food, especially biryani. After several attempts cooking this, I ended up with more garam masala than needed. My bad for buying a new packet when another was at the deep end of the drawer. What can you do with this leftover spice blend? And, wouldn’t it be great if you know exactly what is in garam masala? Then, you could make your own blend.

Are you a fan of Indian food? Yes, then you must read on to find out more about this aromatic spice blend. The flavour of garam masala is complex but at the end of this article, you will have a very good understanding of this spice including making your own. Also, there are various easy ways to use it besides cooking Indian food. Furthermore, there are health benefits you ought to know. Read on…

Firstly, for you who do not know what garam masala is, here goes…

Originated from the Indian subcontinent, garam masala is widely used in Indian cuisine either alone or with other seasonings.

The word garam means “hot” and masala means “a mixture of spices”. “Hot” does not mean spiciness. Found on Wikipedia, it refers to “heating the body” in the Ayurvedic term. The spices are believed to elevate body temperature in Ayurvedic medicine.

There is no single recipe for making a garam masala blend. The ingredients and proportions differ according to the region as well as each maker’s individual preferences.

Furthermore, in Indian household, the recipe is passed down in a family for generations.

Aromatic and flavourful, garam masala adds warmth and sweetness, heat and a hint of floral undertones to a variety of dishes. This spice blend creates incredible depth and complexity that you will want to know…

What is in Garam Masala

The most common spices include

Other variations may include turmeric, mace, garlic, ginger, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, star anise, bay leaves, fenugreek, saffron and dried red chillies.

Indian spices used to make garam masala

How to Make Your Own Garam Masala

Why would you want to make your own?

3 worthy reasons

Flavour & aroma. Spices lose their quality swiftly once crushed. Therefore, grinding your own ensure the maximum potency of the spices, giving your dish a bursting flavour.

Wastages. You grind the amount needed to avoid wastages. You wouldn’t want to keep them for months because the flavour and aroma will dissipate over time.

Preservatives & flavour enhancers. Store-bought ground spices may contain salt, preservatives and flavour enhancers. Grind your own spices so you know what is in it.

Here is a simple garam masala recipe you may want to start with.  As you go along, adjust to your preference.

Starting with whole seeds, you will need

  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cardamom seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 whole cinnamon

Methods

  1. Heat a skillet over medium heat and toast the coriander, cardamom, cumin, black peppercorns for approximately 10 minutes. This will release the oil and intensify their flavour. Stir constantly till fragrant.
  2. Pour them out immediately into a bowl and stir them to release the heat. Ensure the spices are totally cool before grinding.
  3. Grind in a spice/coffee grinder.
  4. Grate the nutmeg and add to the mixture.
  5. Store in an airtight container away from the heat in a cool, dark area.

Now that you know how and why you should be making your own,

How to use Garam Masala

Garam Masala is traditionally added at the end of the cooking process. It may also be used together with other seasonings for marinating meat.

Typically used in meat and fish dishes, vegetarian dishes and soups are relatively common too.

Here, I share with you my favourite Hyderabadi Biryani by Swasthi. If you are a huge fan of herbs & spices, big and complex flavour, you will love this.

Most recently, I found a Chicken Biryani recipe by RecipeTin Eats. Her easy to follow methods and detailed explanations are awesome.

I am sure you will find many recipes using garam masala on the web. Besides cooking Indian food, here are some interesting ways to use this complex and aromatic spice blend.

Roasted Vegetables (of your choice) including potatoes or sweet potatoes.

Combine 4 tablespoons olive oil or melted butter with 1 tablespoon garam masala and ½ teaspoon salt. For more flavour add 1 teaspoon cumin and ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper for heat. Coat your vegetables and roast as you normally do. Yummy!

Flavoured Popcorn. Do you make your own popcorn? Yes. Great!

After removing the popcorn from the heat, immediately add 1 tablespoon melted butter combined with ½ teaspoon garam masala. Toss till fully and evenly coated. Enjoy! Here is a basic popcorn instruction from Simply Recipes.

Spicy Mayonnaise. Add a dash of garam masala to your mayonnaise.

Use the spiced mayonnaise to make your sandwiches, deviled eggs, coleslaw or any dish that call for mayonnaise. Your family or friends will be wondering what makes it so good.

Aromatic Rice. Instead of eating plain rice, spice up your rice with garam masala.

I recommend using basmati rice. Love the light and fluffy texture. Follow the instructions here – how to make healthy and simple herb rice. Besides the instructions, it explains the choices of rice, herbs and spices you may choose from.

Types of food you can spice up with garam masala

Spiced Desserts. Garam masala in desserts? The same way apple pairs perfectly well with cinnamon, so does garam masala.

Next time you are baking your apple pie or apple crumble, add a pinch of garam masala. Imagine how wonderful the smell is in your kitchen.

How do you like these ideas? Sounds yummy but you don’t have garam masala. And you do not have time to make your own. No worries. Read on…

Garam Masala Substitute

I understand that you may not have all the spices needed to make your own garam masala.

Personally, I feel cumin is the closest in flavour and aroma. Cumin is one of the main components of garam masala. As I have mentioned earlier, there is no single recipe for garam masala, thus you can create your own blend or at least, find the closest.

Try this

Mix 1 part cumin with ¼ part allspice.

Or any combination of cumin, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, black peppercorn.

While you can use cumin by itself as a substitute, it is best to combine with the mentioned spices should you have them.

Go on, mix and match until you find the spice combination you like most.

I understand it may be difficult to imagine how garam masala tastes like if you have not tried. Therefore, I suggest you buy a small jar of garam masala. Use it as a guideline when creating your own.

Now that you know what garam masala is, you may be wondering if this aromatic spice blend benefits your health. Let’s find out.

Garam Masala Health Benefits

In the tradition of Hindu Ayurvedic medicine, garam masala is a warming spice that helps raise body temperature and improve metabolism which is great for weight loss.

Additionally, strong and different flavours make cooking healthier and simple. You are able to reduce salt and use less of other seasonings but still, get to enjoy flavourful meals.

Many of the component spices have different health benefits.

Cumin. A study has shown that cumin may increase the activity of digestive enzymes, potentially speeding up digestion.

Rich in iron, an essential mineral for stimulating blood flow. With the increase in oxygenation, concentration improves and you can experience increase cognitive performance.

Coriander. The research found on NCBI, US National Library of Medicine, shown coriander has the ability to help lower cholesterol.

Coriander’s volatile oil is rich in phytonutrients. These are natural compounds that help support a healthy body.

Cardamom. Known as “The Queen of Spices”, it is traditionally used in Indian Ayurveda and Chinese medicine, treating gum and teeth infections, cold and sore throat, and digestive issues such as constipation, diarrhoea among others.

A study has shown that cardamom’s volatile oils have therapeutic values being antiseptic, antispasmodic, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant and carminative.

Cardamom is a good source of potassium, an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure.

Read more about cardamom here.

Cinnamon is well known for its anti-inflammatory properties, effective at fighting inflammation levels throughout the body.

An excellent source of fibre, cinnamon may help provide relief from constipation.

Read more about the health benefits of cinnamon here. From this article, you will find out how to differentiate Ceylon and Cassia cinnamon. It is important to know how and why.

Cloves. Research shows that the compounds found in cloves may help control blood sugar.

Cloves also contain a compound called eugenol, which acts as a natural antioxidant. Antioxidants are compounds that reduce oxidative stress, which is the contributing factor of developing chronic disease.

Rich in manganese, a mineral essential to bone health.

Nutmeg. This is another spice that contains an abundance of antioxidant. Also, rich in anti-inflammatory compounds which helps reduce inflammation.

In addition, nutmeg is rich in many B-complex vitamins, including Vitamin C and A, folic acid, riboflavin and niacin that are needed for optimum health.

All the above spices combined in one spice blend, garam masala. Wouldn’t you agree with this to be beneficial to our overall health?

Need to stock up your spices?

At a glance, these are the health benefits of garam masala

  • Promotes weight loss
  • Promotes healthy bones
  • Relieve pain and inflammation
  • Fight disease and build immunity
  • Control blood sugar levels
  • Control heart rate and blood pressure
  • Detoxify body
  • Aids digestion including constipation, bloating, diarrhoea and irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Increase vitamins and minerals absorption

All in All

Instead of one single ingredient spice, garam masala is a blend of spices. Believe to be originated from northern India, the components for making this blend varies from one region to another and one family to another.

Without a strict recipe to follow and knowing exactly what is in garam masala, it is relatively easy to create your own blend as long as you use the main spices – cumin, coriander, cardamom, nutmeg, cloves and black peppercorns.

Besides the incredibly wonderful aroma and flavour garam masala brings, there are many health benefits consuming this all-in-one cooking spice.

Did the interesting ways of using garam masala entice you to try out this aromatic and healthy spice? Let us know at the comments section below. If you have used it before, tell us how you like it or share your cooking method and dishes.

Should you consider improving your cooking skills, did you know there is an online cooking course where you can learn at your own pace, from the comfort of your home? Start your 7-days free trial here.

Read Related Articles

Besides enhancing the flavour of your home-cooked food, most herbs & spices are beneficial to health.

Here are more articles you may find useful.

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From the Corner of My Home – Spice Up Your Life with Herbs and Spices

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or medical professional, and this post should not be taken as medical advice. Please do your own research. Material on this blog is provided for informational purposes only. It is general information that may not apply to you as an individual and is not a substitute for your own doctor’s medical care or advice.

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Published by

Sharon

Sharon is on a career break, minding her family. During her free hours, she loves sharing her passion for herbs and spices. She learned how to build this website at Wealthy Affiliate University. If you have a passionate topic and would love to share, click here to learn how to build your own profitable website!

12 Replies to “What is Garam Masala

  1. Hello Sharon, thank you for sharing this post explaining what garam masala means. I was actually wondering what that phrase means and where it can be traced to. Now I know. I am a huge fan of spices and I use them a lot whenever I am cooking but I am not quite familiar with some of the spices used to make garam masala. The process of making it which you have shown is really simple, the application is very wide and the benefits are superb. I really wish I can lay hold of these spices and prepare garam masala myself.

    Regards!

    1. You must try! Since you have been cooking with spices, I am sure you have most of the spices needed to make your own garam masala. It will be an enjoying process. The aroma of the spices will bring you to the streets of India 😉

  2. Just wow! This would be my first of coming across an Indian cuisine. Sounds so much like graham masala would be a nice treat. 

    Lol. I like to think of myself as a foodie which makes me open to trying different dishes, especially continental soups. But I have to say, its a bit surprising to find that graham masala can be used to prepare flavored popcorn.

    It does not seem like a common spice, can you recommend any alternative?

    1. The alternative spices would be Cajun seasoning, paprika or cayenne pepper. My other favourite besides garam masala is Cajun. Seriously, you must try garam masala!

  3. Garam Masala is new to me. It’s only this time that I learned about it. A kind of food ingredient helping us to warm our bodies in the inside. I think this is equivalent to chili pepper we have in the Philippines that is pungent and taking an amount of it can warm up the body and even melts mucous if you are having a cold.

    Thanks for informing us of this natural product that can help people complete preparation and give taste to their own food for the family and even to people they serve.

    1. Chilli pepper gives us heat as in spiciness and I understand it can really get incredibly “hot” and spicy depending on the type of chilli. If not used to the high level of spiciness, we’ll need glasses of ice-cold water to gobble down. And some people suggested cold milk. I have not tried this though. 

      However, garam masala is not spicy but gives us the warming body effect. I suggest you try garam masala and let us know how you like it. 

  4. What a thorough, informative and useful post.
    This is the first time I have heard of this spice blend, but it seems it is the perfect spice blend to add in our cooking routine considering the benefit it offers to our health.
    Thank you for the proven methods of use and preparation. It will help all of us who are foreign to garam masala to do the preparation well in order to benefit from its good effects on our health.
    I love spices and I will share your article with the lady and she will learn how to add it to her meals.
    Thank you for sharing!!

  5. This was a great article Sharon. I learned somethings I never knew, like the meaning of Garam Masala and its various ingredients. I personally do the majority of the cooking in my family and I am very much into using spices. I often experiment with different flavors using multiple kinds for producing unique flavors. Now that I know what Garam Masala means, I guess it could be said that I have made my own many times in the past.

    I really love all kinds of ethnic foods, Indian, Moroccan, Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Jamaican, West Indian,… Any kind of food that uses multiple spices I love eating and making. I have known for quite some time the health benefits of various spices and how in both Chinese Herbal and Ayurvedic Medicine they use multiple spices for synergistic purposes. This is why I like cooking with them, plus it allows me to cook without salt in most cases.

    Another thing I did learn that I didn’t know before was how to prepare any kind of Garam Masala. I normally buy the individual ingredients already ground but now I will grind them myself. Your explanation about preparing them by heating and stirring in a skillet to release the oils made perfect sense and I would not have thought about that, so thank you for that. One other thing. I never thought of adding a pinch to desserts, something else to try.

    1. Nice to see you here, Robert.

      Spices are amazing, aren’t they? They give us the flavour, aroma and help maintain our overall health. 

      Thanks for sharing your experiences and you must try the spiced desserts. Let me know if you like it.

  6. Ooooo. Garam Masala. I love spices and your article has me all excited about this spice mix. I love all the spices you mentioned in Garam Masala. And I can see how they can add good flavor to the food we cook.

    I enjoy nasi biryani a lot! haha. It is simply so delicious! I have always wondered how it is made, and thanks to you, now I know.

    The surprise for me here are the desserts. Interesting. I never thought of using the spices for desserts. Thank you for the ideas!

    1. It is a surprise to many how spices are used in desserts. We may not be aware but think of the delicious apple pie. It contains cinnamon and the rich Christmas Fruit Cake contains cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice among others. Garam masala in desserts is new to me too and is another of my favourite.

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