What Is Garam Masala?

cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg whole spices and a blue cup containing garam masala on a wooden table

If you’ve never tried garam masala, you should! What is garam masala? It is an iconic blend of several different spices used in many Indian and Asian dishes. And it can turn an ordinary dish into a magical delight for the senses.

Garam masala is a unique combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, mace, peppercorns, coriander and cumin. The word garam translates to mean heat. But this spice blend isn’t hot in the same way cayenne pepper is hot. Rather, heat in this instance means that the spices raise the heat of the body, increasing metabolism.

What’s so wonderful about garam masala is that this interesting grouping of spices play so well together! They are a perfect compliment to each other, bringing out complexity in foods that might otherwise seem pedestrian. Cinnamon adds subtle sweetness, peppercorns adds a bit of heat, nutmeg brings complexity, lemony coriander adds interesting texture.

You might try garam masala rubbed on meat or dusted over cooked veggies. I’ve even seen recipes for cookies using the blend. My favorite use for garam masala at the moment is adding it to soups and stews. It adds a subtle, but complex, undertone to something as simple as chicken soup, elevating it to the gourmet.

Garam masala is usually added at the end of a dish, applied with a light hand as a finishing touch. But chefs are beginning go a bit bolder with their use of garam masala. It’s not uncommon to see it used in marinades, salad dressings and even in baked dishes such as bread. So try stirring a teaspoon — or if you’re brave, a tablespoon — into your next chicken soup or curry dish. And be prepared to say, “wow!”

You can find garam masala at most grocery store or online. But if you’re looking to try to make your own garam masala spice mix from scratch, you’ll find as many recipes as there are leaves on the trees. Different regions and different cooks have perfected their own version of the quintessential spice. Some will add more cumin or more cinnamon, even saffron.

Once you try garam masala, you’ll find endless ways to use it, and enjoy it.

Here are a few links to some garam masala recipes from around the web to get you started.

Garam Masala recipe from aboutfood

Garam Masala recipe from Food Network

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