What's in Garam Masala?

Amber Bracegirdle | Bluebonnet Baker

Find out what's in garam masala and try our simple recipe to make your own!

Used frequently in Indian cooking, garam masala is mix of ground spices, but there is no standard recipe for it. This tends to beg the question - just what’s in garam masala?

Ragda Photo

Let’s first of all understand exactly what garam masala is.

‘Garam’ means hot and ‘masala’ means spices, although the term garam does not necessarily refer to hot as being spicy hot. Instead, it is the rich warmth provided by the blend of spices.

North vs South

In North India you will typically find garam masala used as a powder, whereas in South India it is more of a paste in which the spices are mixed with either coconut milk, vinegar or water.

Furthermore, the garam masala that you will find in the northern parts of India tend to only use black pepper as the sole spicy ingredient, with the other spices being more aromatic and sweet. The further south you go, you will find that dried red chilli is often added, making it spicier than the garam masala you will find in the north. 

Easy Chicken Curry Picture

Why use garam masala

Using garam masala helps to balance flavors within your dish and can reduce the need for too much salt.

Not only is it a delicious spice blend to add to your dishes, but it also has a range of health benefits such as boosting your digestion and metabolism. Many of the spices found in garam masala are full of antioxidants and can help reduce inflammation. It  also helps to reduce bloating and gas and can even tackle bad breath!  

Quick Chicken Curry Image

What's in garam masala

The typical spices used in garam masala include:

- Coriander

- Cumin

- Cardamom

- Cloves

- Black pepper

- Cinnamon

- Nutmeg 

Coconut Chicken Curry Pic

However, you can also find some recipes that include: 

- Turmeric

- Saffron

- Fennel seeds

- Ginger

- Garlic

- Mustard seed

- Mace

- Star anise 

- Tamarind

- Fenugreek

- Bay leaves

- Malabar leaves

- Dried red chilli  

As there is no standard when it comes to garam masala, you can create it as spicy or as warm as you would like. We prefer more of a warm garam masala and then spice up our dish with the addition of hot peppers as we go along.

Spice Mix Photo

Here is our recipe for a warming, aromatic garam masala:

3 tablespoons coriander seeds

2 tablespoons cumin seeds

2 tablespoons cardamom seeds

2 tablespoons black peppercorns

1 teaspoon fresh nutmeg, grated

1 cinnamon stick, whole 

1 teaspoon whole cloves 

1. Begin by toasting coriander, cumin, cardamom and peppercorns in a skillet over medium heat. Shake the skillet and stir occasionally to toast the spices evenly.

2. Once the spices are toasted and the aromas released, remove them and set aside. 

3. In a mortar and pestle or coffee grinder, grind the cooled spices.

4. Add in the grated nutmeg.

5. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.  

Here are some of our favorite recipes in which you can now use your freshly made garam masala!

- Indian Spiced Chicken with Cilantro Pesto

- Spicy Roasted Chickepeas

- Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala

- Easy Coconut Chicken Curry

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Amber Bracegirdle

About Amber

Amber is a native Texan, born to a family of fabulous cooks. She shares her love of all things Tex-Mex and Southern both on her blog, Bluebonnet Baker, and here on Food Fanatic. She heavily endorses the use of the contraction "y'all".