Spices are one of the most versatile cooking elements. You can use them in many forms, in different ways and easily spice up any meal, all you need to know is the How To??…
Cooking with spices can be tricky and to those new to using spices complicated! This may not be the case if you know how and when to use them.
You go on a buying spree after reading a yummy easy curry recipe and buy those 100 gms packs and bottles of spices for making that one dish!!
After the initial few attempts of using those spices, they land in the back of your kitchen cabinets losing their flavour and freshness!!
The reason for the spices to take a back seat is because you used them to follow a recipe step by step but are now unsure how to reuse them to make other dishes and not just Indian food.
The way you season food will have a direct impact on the flavour and taste of a dish. Learning the art to season your food not only makes cooking fun but also easy!!
In this post, we will look at the how-to of cooking with spices.
Why do we use spices for cooking
The use of spices for cooking Indian food
5 – step method to help you cook with spices
A list of 14 everyday spices for beginners
Why Are Spices Used For Cooking
A popular reason for most attendees who attend my cooking classes is not just to learn ‘A’ dish. It is more a need to know, when and how to add spices during the cooking process for the dish to taste authentic.
This indeed is very important.
The use of spices is what makes Indian cooking different and perhaps a bit complex than any other cuisine.
Saying that cooking with spices is not just limited to Indian cuisine. They can be used with any dish you fancy spicing UPP!
In fact, every cuisine in the world have native spice mixes and blends.
Using spices for cooking food has become increasingly popular because of their flavour and health enhancing properties.
But randomly adding spices without an awareness of their effect on the dish, may lead to a flavour mishap.
This may well discourage you from experimenting with spices because you don’t want to waste that beautiful cut of lamb you bought from the fresh market.
It’s always a good idea to learn and understand how to work with spices in its best form for their maximum impact on the dish.
This stepwise guide will take you through a journey of a spice life cycle when cooking with them to elevate the flavours.
Step 1 – Know Your Spices
There are seemingly hundreds of spices all over the world. Few are integral to Indian cuisine such as cumin powder, coriander powder, garam masala powder, chilli powder, turmeric powder and few others.
The way to know your spices is to work with them.
You need to understand that each spice plays a certain role in the dish.
Use your sense of intuition when it comes to selecting and adding spice to the dish. You can do so by smelling or perhaps even tasting just a tiny speck of the spice you wish to use.
One key point to remember is that not all spices render taste.
Different spices serve different purposes. Few add flavour and aroma, some spices are used to add taste while there are others used for adding colour.
It is mostly the powdered spices which enhance the taste of the dish, while whole spices are used to impart flavour and aroma.
For example, a spicy vindaloo or rogan josh will require more spices to make it hot and spicy and hence use more quantity of powdered spices. While a mild korma or creamy gravy will require whole spices, since korma dishes are mild and aromatic.
When it comes to cooking with spices, it is best to first identify whether the dish requires enhancing taste, flavour or both and select your spices accordingly.
This will give you an idea of how much or how little or the kind of spice you need to make the dish.
Here is a list of 28 Indian cooking spices with information on how to use them and their impact on food to get you going.
Step 2 – Anticipate the change in form
Once you are able to differentiate between whole and ground spices and their impact on food, it is time to start cooking.
We know that carrots taste different when eaten raw, cooked, boiled or baked.
This goes the same for spices.
A unique quality of spices is the way the essence of a particular spice changes when it is processed further.
What I mean by this, is that same spice can taste different and give a completely different kind of taste or flavour to the dish depending on how it has been processed during cooking.
Let’s take cumin seeds as an example ingredient for a Lamb Bhuna recipe.
Cumin seeds when used whole imparts a very woody aromatic flavour but does little to its taste. The same spice in a powder form provides a pungent spicy taste to the dish. If the seeds are roasted and ground then the flavour and the taste both get further enhanced and give a woody, fresh and a sharp spicy taste to the dish.
In this Lamb Bhuna dish we have used whole spices and then used them again as a roasted ground spice.
This changes the form of spices during the cooking process. That is the form changes from being a raw whole spice to roasted ground spice emitting stronger flavour compounds.
Different forms of spices – Cooking with cumin seeds
So, once you have selected your spices, think about the following two points:
The form you will be using it in that is whether as a whole spice, ground or roasted form and;
The first word associated with Indian cooking is Spices!! Knowing and adding the right spices to food can be a bit daunting for those new to cooking with spices.
Most of us are familiar with common Indian spices like cumin powder, coriander powder, turmeric powder; but it gets a bit challenging when it comes to more complex spices listed in a recipe.
Few questions that pop to mind when reading about the spices listed for making a particular dish may be:
Where do I buy the spices from?
How do I use it for cooking and when do I add them?
What is the purpose of the spice so that I can reuse it again?
Maybe knowing the Indian name will help source the spice from an Indian store.
This handy list of the most frequently used top 28 Indian Spices may help in answering most of these questions.
Use this list of Indian spices with the picture of the spices as a quick reference guide that clarifies different spices and their use in cooking, ie, does it add flavour, colour or taste.
Inside the Indian Spice Cabinet
If you have had the opportunity to step into an Indian kitchen, you may feel like being transported to a tiny spice world seeing the display of spices in the cupboard.
Just the mere sight of them sends question signals, ‘do you actually use them all?’.
And the answer to that is a merry, jolly, spicy ‘YES’, and that too without requiring a spice list for a guide.
Spices are at the very heart of Indian cooking and in any Indian household. That’s what gives most dishes that delectable flavour and depth of taste.
The 28 Most Common Indian Spice List That Solve Your Spice Confusion
Over the years of teaching Indian cooking, the one common query I get asked most often is about buying and using spices. I present the attendees with this list of Indian spices which has proved to be helpful.
Spices come in many different forms. Each form has a different purpose of use and renders different taste to the dish.
For many, cooking with spices can be rather confusing and overwhelming. This either makes them buy a lot and not know what to do with them or not buy at all and play it safe.
To get over your spice dilemma, here is a spices list of top 28 commonly used spices in alphabetical order. Consider this as a bucket list to help you begin with your spice collection.
There are hundreds of spices, but for starters, I am listing the most popularly used spices for cooking Indian food. You surely do not need all of them but do go through the spices list for future buys.
You can also use the commonly used spices for adding additional flavour to your pies, stews, broths, soups, marinades and many more. This post on the best spice combinations will give you ideas on how to reuse your spices to make different meals.
Take a print out of this list and pin it on your fridge for a quick go-to spices list.
Base ingredient for different type of tadkas (tempering).Flavouring agent for many Indian dishes and rice preparations. Used in most Indian dishes for the main base sauce. Also used in numerous spice blends.
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When it comes to cooking any regional cuisine the right ingredient is what makes a dish authentic. But what if you are unable to get those ingredients? Is there no way to make that lovely Rogan Josh recipe?!!
Do you skip making a dish after going through the list of ingredients just because you don’t have it?
Do you ever wonder what the possible spice substitute would be in case your nearest supermarket does not stock them?
The good thing about working with spices is that they are not always a MUST have ingredient. There is a way around it, yet maintaining authenticity.
Let’s find out:
Why is it easy to substitute Indian spices with other ingredients
How to find the best alternative spice substitute
What is the right amount of substitute to be used without compromising on taste?
A comprehensive chart of best alternative spice substitute for popular Indian Spices
How to Substitute Spices Used in Indian Cuisine
It is given that the base of Indian cuisine is the use of spices. After all, can it be an Indian curry without cumin powder, coriander powder or turmeric?
Would you not then make a curry because you don’t have one of the spices listed or may be intolerant to a spice or simply dislike a particular strong spice?
The average Indian dishes have a minimum of 7-9 ingredients out of which 3-4 may be just spices.
Given that there are different ingredients that go to make an Indian dish, it effectively gives you the flexibility to use alternative spices.
This can only be possible if the ingredient, in this case, the spice to be substituted is not the key or the main element of the dish such as pepper for making pepper chicken or mustard for a mustard-based gravy.
As long as the spice substitute has some of the characteristic elements of the listed spice it is absolutely safe to either alternate the spices or omit them completely from the dish.
It is, however, important to note that few spices have a characteristic flavour profile which may be a challenge to replicate. In this case, the dish will tend to lose a degree of its authenticity.
What is The Right Amount of Spice Substitute That Should be Used?
Although I am stating that you have the option of going for an alternative substitute for the spice, but should you be replacing the exact amount?
This question is a bit tricky to answer since there are many factors that depend on what should be the correct replaced amount.
Few things to consider when it comes to looking for a spice substitute are:
1. The type of spice substitute
Not all spices have the same level of taste or flavour. Some spices have a stronger flavour profile compared to others. If your chosen substitute is stronger to the actual spice then you will need to use that in less quantity while a spice with subtle taste may need larger quantities to be added.
What is it – An aromatic mix of warm and floral spices makes this Persian spice a must have in any Persian kitchen. Advieh simply means “Spice” in Persian. Its a subtle mild spice with multiple uses to make some amazing flavourful dishes.
Region – Persia
Taste – More aromatic and fragrant and subtly sweet as opposed to spicy.
Uses – Can be used in rice dishes, meat, chicken or lentils stews, grilled or roasted vegetables, and even rice puddings. Can also be used as a seasoning for eggs or used as a marinade or dry rub for meats.
What is it – An all-purpose seasoning used extensively in Middle Eastern Cuisine, especially in Turkish Cuisine. The word “baharat” literally translates to”spices” in Arabic and is a blend of several spices. An aromatic spice blend without any heat, it adds a little zest to any dish be it soups, lentils, rice. meat or fish.
Region – Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Turkey
Taste – More aromatic and fragrant with a smoky undertone. It is subtly sweet as opposed to spicy.
Uses – It can be used as a seasoning for beef, lamb, chicken, seafood, and vegetables. Goes very well with rice and lentils dishes. Can also be used as a dry rub or marinade. use as a condiment for soups, broths, dipping oil.
Typical Ingredients – Black peppercorns, toasted coriander, toasted cumin, allspice, sweet paprika, green cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon, nutme.
What is it – An ancient blend of spices which may have its origin linked back to Biblical times. A multipurpose, aromatic spice blend to many Middle Eastern cuisines its usage is unlimited. Each region or household make their own versions on the blend but few spices such as sumac, oregano and sesame seeds are mostly the standard ingredients.
Region – Egypt, Palestine, Israel
Taste – Non spicy and aromatic with subtle earthy and citrus undertones, and just a hint of nuttiness.
Uses – Using to sprinkle over breads, flavour up dips such as hummous, yogurt etc. It can be used as a seasoning for beef, lamb, chicken, seafood, and vegetables. Can also be used as a dry rub or marinade. Popularly used to season olive oil.
What is it – The word “hawaij” simply means “mixture,” and is used to make a blend of spices. There are two different versions of hawaij that is used in Yemeni kitchen. One is a savory hawaij spice blend used for soups and stews, while the second aromatic blend is used for coffee and baking. Be sure of which one you buy as the one used for soups may have turmeric, onion powder and cumin while the baking version uses aromatic spices.
Region – Yemen, Israel
Taste – Non spicy, aromatic and earthy.
Uses – Savoury Hawaij can be used for chicken soup, meat stews, beans and vegetable dishes. Baking or Hawaij for coffee is used to make coffee, milk based drinks, cakes biscuits and other desserts.
What is it – A popular spice blend belonging to the Northern part of the Indian Subcontinent. Its a blend of many different spices best known for the vibrant red colour that comes from the addition of bright red chilli powder. “Tandoori” refers to a cooking process where food is made in a special clay oven. “Masala” means spices in hindi. So as the name suggests its a blend especially used for dishes that is cooked in a tandoor oven. However modern day cooking have made this spice blend extensively used in multiple ways.
Region – India, Pakistan
Taste – Spicy hot and smoky. It is pungent and has a bitter sweet taste.
Uses – Popular used to make marinades and rubs, it is also used to make veg and non-veg curries. Goes well with poultry, fish, Indian cheese and vegetables.
Typical Ingredients – Kashmiri chiles, turmeric, coriander, cumin, black peppercorns, green cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, nutmeg, cloves
What is it – A must have spice blend in every Indian household. It’s a combination of many different spices, blended together to make a traditional Indian spice mix. Every Indian region, state and household have their very own unique recipe. They can range from a mix of only 3 spices (like the Bengal Garam Masala powder) or up to 25 spices (typically the Northern Indian region).‘Garam’ is an Indian word for ‘Hot’ and ‘Masala’ means ‘Spice’.
Region – India
Taste – A strong and robust spice blend that is spicy and aromatic.
Uses – Popular used as a seasoning for many veg and non-veg curries. Goes well with poultry, fish, Indian cheese and vegetable, lentils and legumes. Can also be used to make soups, stews and stir-fries.
What is it – “Chaat” essentially is the name given for spicy, hot, sweet, tangy Indian Street food. This is a go to spice blend to season many Indian snacks. It is used more as a seasoning similar to that of salt and pepper to liven up finished food.
Region – India
Taste-Tangy with a slight pungency that adds flavour to a dish.
Uses – Use as a seasoning mainly for Indian snacks, street food, salads, bbq seasoning and fruits. Can also be used for adding a tangy taste to yogurt dips, drinks, soups and veg curries. Goes very well with vegetables and legumes.
Typical Ingredients – coriander powder, carom seeds powder, black salt, red chiles, dry mango powder, asafoetida, cumin, ginger, black peppercorns, dried mint
What is it – An earthy, spicy curry spice blend used to make Indian style curries. Its a mix of different spices conveniently blended together making it easier for cooks to simply add a teaspoon to the base sauce giving it an authentic Indian curry taste. It adds flavour and colour to a dish.
Region – India
Taste– Pungent, spicy and hot.
Uses – Used to make curries, soups, stews, stir-fries. Can also be used to make marinades and dry rubs. Add for making curry flavoured dips and dipping oil or sauce. Goes well with all food items such as veg, non – veg, legumes, lentils, rice dishes.
Typical Ingredients – turmeric, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, cinnamon, green cardamom, black peppercorns, Kashmiri chillie, curry leaves
What is it – Panch phoran, which literally translates to “five tempering spices”. It is a crunchy, salt free, blend of 5 whole spices very typical to Eastern Indian region. It is used to temper vegetables and non-veg dishes in warm oil. You can either crush the spices to release its oil before use or use them whole as the first step of cooking to flavour oil. Toasting the whole spices before use adds to its flavour.
Region – India
Taste– This is a non-spicy spice mix without any added chilli. Its aromatic and pungent and is used mostly to add flavour to a dish.
Uses – Used at the very first step on cooking to flavour oil before adding vegetables or meat. Goes very well with ay vegetable or legumes. Can be used to make curries, stir-fries and as a pickling spice. You can also crush the whole seeds and use is as a dry rub.
What is it – Chimichurri is a popular sauce for marinading or putting on top of grilled meats in Argentina. The blend can be prepared fresh using fresh ingredients or bought in a dry pre-blended form. With many different regional variations, the ingredients used to make the sauce may change.
Region – Argentina, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Colombia,Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Mexico.
Taste-Spicy and tangy. Depending on the type of chilli used, few spice blends can also have a slight heat to it.
Uses – Primarily used as a grilling sauce added to olive oil for meats, poultry and fish. You can also use it for making stuffing or to marinade chunky vegetables and grilling cheese.
Typical Ingredients – paprika, garlic, red bell pepper, parsley, coarse salt, black pepper, cumin, sumac, oregano, dried Tomato, lemon rind.
What is it – “Achiote” is another name for Annato seeds. It’s a bright rusty -red spice that has a peppery aroma and a subtle flavour. Achiote paste is made by griding Annota seeds with olive oil. You can also buy achiote powder and add it with olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice to make into a paste.
Region –Mexico, Caribbean, Central and South America
Taste- Earthy, mild and slightly nutty. It has a pleasant, sweetish aroma with peppery faint overtones mint.
Uses – Used primarily to add colour and subtle flavour to food such as rice dishes, meat, fish and vegetables. Used for making and adding colour to stews, soups, tacos, dry rubs.
What is it – Although fajita and taco seasoning are two different types of seasoning to make different dishes, you can use one for the other if you wish as they both have similar ingredients. While fajita seasoning has additional souring agent, taco seasoning typically has more paprika and no additional citric acid. Its a popular spice mix belonging to Tex-Mex cuisine.
Region –Mexico and Texas – America
Taste- Mild, tangy and spicy with a slight sweet aroma.
Uses -Apart from making tacos, fajitas and burritos you can also use fajita seasoning for making spicy marinades, spreads, dips or sprinkle on chicken or beef. Use to spruce up your soups, stews and curries.
What is it – A must have stable spice in all Chinese pantry. As the name suggests it’s typically made of 5 spices but different variations of the spice can be found today. It is an aromatic spice as opposed to spicy.
Region – China and Taiwan
Taste– Although based on the principle of combining the 5 different tastes i.e. sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and salty, its overriding taste is warm and slightly sweet.
Uses – A very good seasoning for pork dishes although can be used to make chicken and other meat and seafood dishes too. Used as a dry rub for grilling, pan frying even steaming. You can also add it to a sauce to give it an oriental flavour. Also popularly used for making stir-fries and curries.
Typical Ingredients – Fennel, Sichuan peppercorns, Star anise, Cloves and cinnamon
What is it -A classic Japanese spice blend used as a seasoning to zing up many of your dishes. “Furikake” means to “sprinkle”, which is exactly what you do with this flavour-packed seasoning. Its like the salt and peeper of Japenese cuisine
Region – Japan
Taste– Umami, Salty and Savoury with a nutty texture.
Uses – Very commonly used as a seasoning for many Japenese dishes especially rice and noodles. It can also be used to sprinkle over eggs, boiled or steamed vegetables, french fries, popcorn, salad and soups for added flavour.
Typical Ingredients – Toasted white & black sesame seeds, Sea salt, Tellicherry black peppercorns, Nori seaweed
What is it -Another Japanese dining table condiment used much in the same way as salt and pepper. A must have in a Japanese household to spruce up meals just by adding a sprinkle.
Region – Japan
Taste– Umami, Salty and Savoury with a zingy nutty flavour.
Uses – It is used to spice up noodles (udon, ramen, soba), soups, fish, prawns, sushi or simply to sprinkle on salads or rice. USe it as a seasoning to sprinkle on top of tempuras, grilled fish or meat, ever stews and soups.
Typical Ingredients – Toasted white & black sesame seeds, Sea salt, Peppercorn,Orange rind, Nori seaweed, Garlic, Ginger
What is it – Bring in the Thai flavours into your food captured in a jar. As the name suggests it’s a mix of 7 spices with varying and balancing the different tastes of salty, sour, spicy, and sweet. Aromatic and flavoursome spice for creating those fragrant Thai dishes at home.
Region – Thailand
Taste– Sweet savoury with sour undertones
Uses – Add the spice powder to stir-fries, curries and sauces. You can also use the spice to make dry rubs for fish, meat and chicken.
What is it – Pho is one of the most popular Vietnamese dishes also popular as street food! “Pho”, means steaming flavourful broth. This blend of spices gives pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup, its distinctive taste.
Region – Vietnam
Taste– Aromatic, warming and sweet
Uses – Makes great tasting and aromatic broth for soups and stews. Can also be added to make Vietnamese curries.
Typical Ingredients – star anise, cinnamon, cardamon, clove, coriander seeds and fennel seeds
What is it – Drawing inspiration from the complex flavours of Thai cuisine, this spice blend is the easy way to add Southeastern flavours to your curry dishes without the need to look for pastes.
Region – Thai, Malaysia
Taste– Aromatic, spicy, hot with a hint of sweetness.
Uses – Add a teaspoon of the curry powder to coconut milk for an authentic Panang curry sauce base for chicken, shellfish, beef or pork. Can also be used for making soups, stews and broth. Sprinkle a teaspoon for making stirfries or noodles.
What is it – Most popular found ready-made in jars and pastes, this is the powdered spice version of the hot spicy paste.
Region – North Africa, Tunisia and the Middle East
Taste– Spicy, hot and smoky
Uses – Good for rice dishes, couscous, Arabic mezze or just for seasoning at the table. For making it into a paste simply mix the spice mixture with oil. Can be used to enhance soups, stews, appetizers and main dishes. Use it as a marinade for meat and fish. Add it to other dips like hummus or yogurt to give it a depth of flavour.
What is it – Ras el Hanout means “top of the shop” in Arabic, that is its made with the best quality spices in the shop. Its the go-to spice blend for Moroccan cuisine. A versatile, fragrant spice that goes well with literally anything.
Region – North Africa and Moroccan
Taste– Ras el Hanout is not a spicy spice blend, instead, it has a pungent, warm flavour. Can also have floral note depending on the type of ingredients used.
Uses – Used in almost all tagine recipes. Makes an aromatic and fragrant rub for meats and adds flavour to soups and stews. Can also be used as a seasoning for making dips and sauces.
What is it – Tabil means “coriander” in Tunisian Arabic. Its a mix of simple spices which makes this an all-purpose spice blend that can be added to many meals and dishes.
Region – North Africa and Tunisia
Taste– Non- hot spice blend with an aromatic earthy warm flavour. instead, it has a pungent, warm flavour.
Uses -A versatile seasoning that can be sprinkled on any grilled dish be it meat , veg or fish. Can also be used as an aromatic flavouring for making dips, stews and sauces. Add it to grains and legumes such couscous, rice, beans for added flavour.
What is it – An vibrant mix of herbs and spices. The name is taken from the Arabic verb ‘Chermel’, which means to rub or marinate something in spices.
Region – Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia
Taste– This is not a hot spice. It has a garlicky and sweet spicy taste.
Uses -The spice mix is popularly used to marinade fish and as a seasoning for seafood. Traditionally Chermoula comes in a paste form made with fresh lemon juice and herbs. You can add the powdered spice blend with lemon juice and make into a marinade for chicken, meat and fish. Can also be used as a dry rub for grilling.
What is it – Piri Piri or Peri Peri is a type of spice and an African word for “chilli”. A very popular spice mix with its own regional variations used mainly for grilling. Spicy, fiery and zesty this mix of spices is sure to tickle everyone’s taste buds!
Region – Portugal, Brazil and North Africa
Taste– Hot and spicy with a hint of tanginess.
Uses -Commonly used as a spice rub for chicken and meat. It can also be used as a marinade for fish and seafood. Try it as a seasoning to spice up your vegetables especially potatoes. You can also make a piri flavoured dip or sauce.
‘What is the Difference Between Curry Powder and Garam Masala Powder?’
Now, if this question was asked to a person living in India, they would probably smirk at you and think you are some kind of a non-foodie alien!
For one ‘Curry masala’ is not an Indian spice and two you don’t actually need curry powder to make Indian food!!
Did I just raise your eyebrows?
Both these statements are true especially when it comes to traditional Indian cooking.
You see both the powders are spice blends made with many different spices. Just like Taco seasoning and Fajita seasoning are two different yet similar spice blends used for two different purposes, it is similar to Curry Powder and Garam Masala Powder.
I will touch upon the differences between the spices by highlighting the following:
The Origin of Curry Powder and Garam Masala
The Uses of Curry Powder and Garam Masala in cooking
The distinctive flavour profile of Curry Powder and Garam Masala
Recommendation to buy Curry Powder and Garam Masala online
Where did Curry Powder and Garam Masala Come from?
Although different in many ways than one, there are few similarities between the spices too. I will explain that too for you to make a choice when it comes to choosing one spice for the other.
As mentioned earlier, curry powder and garam masala powder are both spice blends. Meaning they are made using different types of spices.
Let’s talk about their origination….
Curry powder is the innovation of the Brits. You can read here about the interesting origins of curry powder, so will not go too much in depth. But in short its a spice blend which the British tossed up together to simplify Indian cooking, although the authenticity part may be debatable!
Garam Masala Powder, on the other hand, is an authentic and traditional spice blend used by every Indian either living in the subcontinent or outside! You will ever come across an Indian household (provided that they cook Indian regularly) without a Garam Masala Powder in their spice cabinet. (unless they run out of it)
What Spices Make Garam Masala and Curry Powder
Since both the spices are spice blends its obvious that it will be made with different spices.
However, like most Indian or any world spice blends, it’s difficult to specify the exact recipe. This is because there is no set recipe for Garam Masala powder or Curry powder. It is very rare to come across recipes that are exactly the same for making Garam Masala or Curry Powder at home or for that matter even commercially bought pre-mixed spice blend.
This infographic below will help in characterising and simplifying the most common spices used for making Garam Masala and Curry powder.
How Does Garam Masala and Curry Powder Taste?
If you read my post on Garam Masala you will know that it is derived from the Hindi word meaning ‘Hot Spice’.
Referring to the table above, you will notice that Garam Masala use spices that are sharp that is cardamon, cinnamon, cloves and in some recipes even nutmeg and peppercorn.
All these spices together give Garam Masala powder a very strong flavour with a slightly warming, sweet, pungent to taste.
Curry powder, on the other hand, is made of milder spices. One of the main ingredients being Turmeric powder.
It’s a mild spice. The reason for its use in curry powder is to give a yellow tint to the dish without the need to add any additional spices.
The other spices used in larger quantity when compared to Garam Masala are fenugreek powder, cumin powder, coriander powder which are all sweet mild spices.
This makes curry powder milder to taste with less heightened flavour.
The Uses of Curry Powder and Garam Masala in cooking
Now that we have a better idea of what kind of flavour each of the spices have, it will make us better understand its use for cooking.
Garam Masala can be used both during the cooking process or at the end to give the dish a finishing touch. Adding and stirring Garam Masala at the end of cooking retains and enhances the flavour of the dish.
The key to using Garam Masala is that it should be sparingly used. Too much of it may be an overkill of flavours!
Since Curry powder is used as an Indian curry spice blend, its used during the cooking process and added while you make the base sauce.
It’s also important to cook out the raw flavours of the pre-blended curry mix to avoid an unpleasant taste.
What are the Similarities Between Curry Powder and Garam Masala Powder
If the two spices are so different, then why is it that so many people get confused about them?
The reason could be that both these spices have become synonymous to Indian food.
Its treated almost like Chinese 5 spice when you cook Chinese at home or like Cajun spice if its Spanish or Cajun-style cooking.
The classification of Curry powder and Garam Masala powder as an Indian spice blend confuses many which makes them use it for the wrong purpose.
The striking similarity between the two is that they are both spice blends and use almost the same spices, however, the quantity of mild spices such as turmeric, cumin and coriander is more in one than the other.
Apart from this, there is no other relatable similarity.
Can You Use Garam Powder Instead of Curry Powder or Vice Versa?
Now that you are aware of the differences and similarities between the two, the question if you can use one or the other is pretty much valid.
Referring to the table of ingredients above you will notice that both contain more or less that same spices.
The difference in the recipe is the quantity of each spice used. Garam Masala powder contains stronger pungent spices like cloves, cinnamon, cardamom compared to curry powder, which have mild spices like turmeric, cumin, coriander, fenugreek.
This instantly gives both these spices different flavour profiles.
Because the flavour profile and taste of the two are different, in an ideal world it should not be used as a substitute.
But many people do, due to lack of a suitable alternative or they simply may be unaware of the subtle yet big difference between the two.
You may have come across recipes where they use both Curry powder and Garam Masala powder?
This is because the spices can be used together in a dish complimenting or highlighting the flavour. The point to remember when using these two together is that you need to use them in moderation.
The closest substitute for curry powder will be a mix of turmeric, coriander powder and cumin powder while for Garam masala powder it will be cardamon, cloves and cinnamon.
So, my advise to you is NOT to use them as substitutes. If, however you are stuck for better options then there is no reason why you should not.
Where to Buy Spices From?
Both these spices are readily available in most large supermarkets these days. Although you may find Curry powder to be the more popular of the two when it comes to shelf stocking.
Your Local Indian store or ethnic store will surely have these.
Other than the traditional stores you can also order them online. Here is a list of few online store options for you:
US Online Stores
Badia is an American manufacturer of spices and herbs that started back in 1967. The so… [More]