What is Garam Masala?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2019
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Garam masala is a dry spice mixture that is used throughout India and in parts of Asia. In India, masala refers to any type of spice, while garam implies heat or warmth, so this name means “hot spice.” The spice mixture is not hot in the way that chili heavy spice mixtures are, although it can be aromatic and pungent. It usually adds a kick to foods, and is also believed to create a sense of happiness and well being.

Like other crucial elements of Indian cuisine, garam masala has been used for centuries and adopted by neighboring nations. Adaptations of the mix to suit varying cuisines and palates can be found all over southeast Asia. Northern Indian and Punjabi cuisine use large amounts of this spice, and less of the pungent curry mixtures found in the southern part of India. Many cooks in Pakistan, who are heavily influenced by Punjabi cuisine, also use it in their traditional foods.


Garam masala mixes can be found in many markets, although most cooks agree that it tastes better when it is made fresh. A traditional style mix may include spices like cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, chili powder, mace, cardamom, fennel, fenugreek, and coriander. Depending on the region of India, the dish, and the cook, the mixture will vary. To prepare the mixture, the spices are ground and then toasted on a hot griddle. Pre-ground spices can be used, although they will not be as pungent. The toasted spice mixture is used quickly, and any leftovers are tightly sealed and kept for no more than six months.

Unlike other spice mixes and curries, garam masala is usually added at the end of the cooking process so that the pungent, spicy flavor comes through better. It is also sometimes added to fried doughs and batters to add an extra note of spicy texture. In both cases, it is used in small quantities because the flavor can be overwhelming in large amounts.

When India and Asia began to be explored, many of the spices used in garam masala were brought to Europe and incorporated into the cuisine of curious nations. This mixture makes an excellent dry rub for meat, and can also be used in sauces and marinades to great effect. Adventurous cooks might want to try experimenting with this piquant, flavorful, and flexible spice mixture, which can easily be made to taste at home.


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Post 4

I like this spice mix a lot as it peps up vegetable based curries really well. I'd like to try making my own but I don't really want to use my coffee grinder to do so. Somehow I don't think my family would appreciate coffee beans with an unusual flavor!

Post 3

This garam masala recipe is vague, but I think it could be just enough to help me try my own. Great.

Post 2

I love Indian food, but didn't know what garam malasa actually was. Knowing that it means "hot spice" makes so much more sense, not to mention helping me to understand what it means every time I see a food labeled as a masala.

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