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The Difference Between Garam Masala and Curry Powder

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What could be a better pick in a garam masala vs curry powder comparison, and how different are these two mixes. Both of these are common spice mixes associated with Indian food, but they are inherently different products. There is some overlap in the ingredients, but that’s where the similarities stop.

How to Use it in Food

This famous spice is an important part of Indian cuisine. Its name roughly translates to “warm spice.” To be clear, this is not a hot and spicy mix, but it adds a touch of warm feel and a complex flavor to food. 

It is used as a garnish and is believed to help metabolism and digestion. The masala is a mix of several Indian spices that are roasted, ground, and mixed. The exact number of spices and their quantity used can vary by region and personal preference.

However, the commonly used spices are cumin, coriander seeds, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper, and black cardamom. In some cases, you can replace the black cardamom (big cardamom) with a combination of nutmeg and conventional (green) cardamom.

How To Use It in Recipes

Use it at the end of cooking or sprinkle it on the food while serving it. In conventional Indian cuisine, it’s used with curries, lentils, and soups. It’s good for use with several other cooked dishes, like scrambled eggs.

Feel free to experiment and find more combinations that work with this amazing spice blend. Sure, it’s an Indian spice blend, but there are plenty of foods that can benefit from the addition of its complex flavor and warmth. I sprinkle the masala on pasta and I think it works quite well!

What Can I Use as a substitute?

Don’t have this spice blend at hand? Well, you can try your hand at some garam masala substitutes. The use of a different spice (or spice mix) will change the flavor slightly, so prefer options that provide the same warm mouthfeel, without causing any major changes.

1. Sambhar Masala

Sambhar masala is another wonderful mix of spices used in Indian cuisine. This one’s more popular in the southern regions of India, while the other gets a greater preference in the northern parts of the country. 

While this mix will provide a similar warming feel, it isn’t generally used as a garnish. So expect some changes to taste and flavor if you choose this as a substitute.

2. Chaat Masala

This spice mix finds its use with a group of Indian snacks called chaat. The masala is indeed used as a garnish and adds to the flavor of these savory snacks. It works as a decent replacement, though it brings a sharper, tangier taste.

3. Allspice And Cumin

Here’s a spice combination that’s easily available in the Western world. Allspice gives the same warming feel and touch, while cumin adds hints of pungency. This combination can work, though it lacks the depth of flavor as the original.

4. Curry Powder

Curry powder is an acceptable substitute due to its easy availability. It won’t have the same flavor or intensity, but it provides a taste that’s often associated with Indian cuisine. It contains turmeric, so it will add a yellow tinge to the food.

Curry Powder And What You Should Know About It

The first thing to know about curry powder is that it’s not an Indian spice mix. Curry powder was created in Britain to approximate the taste of conventional Indian cuisine. It is the mix that most chefs outside India plonk into their dishes that are called Indian food. 

It is quite popular in Europe and North America, and basically anywhere around the world where someone’s cooking Indian cuisine. Conventionally, the curry powder mix includes cumin, coriander seeds, chili powder, black peppers, ginger powder, and turmeric. 

Interestingly, turmeric is the key ingredient here. It brings out the bright yellow color that has become a rather well-known mark of Indian cuisine’s curries.

Using Curry Powder In Your Recipe

Curry powder isn’t used as a garnish where the original masala is. It’s added to the recipe at the early stages of cooking and will impart a yellow color to the food. It will add some warming effect, thanks to the presence of various spices, but it can be rather distinct.

Additionally, it should be noted that curry powder presents an oversimplification of Indian cuisine. Curry in Indian cuisine is a class of food that includes several recipes. In the use of curry powder, pretty much all recipes start tasting the same! 

What Can I Use In Place Of Curry Powder?

Can’t get hold of curry powder? Try these substitutes. These can work as decent replacements, though you may notice a change from the conventional taste or appearance of food.

1. Sambhar Masala

Sambhar masala works as a good substitute for curry powder. Both these spice mixes are used in the early stages of cooking. Equally important, they include turmeric, which gives the food its classic appearance. 

In a broad sense, sambhar could be considered a type of curry. While an unprepared chef might use curry powder to make sambhar, the authentic powder/masala remains a better choice.

Sambhar masala is notably stronger and more pungent than curry powder.

2. Turmeric And Allspice

Allspice has a nice warming spice touch to it and could work as an acceptable (if not ideal) replacement for curry powder’s flavor. However, it lacks the color component of curry powder. Well, add some turmeric powder to allspice, and you’ve got that color part sorted out!

3. Tandoori Masala

Tandoori masala is another popular Indian spice mix that finds use in several recipes. Butter chicken is one of the famous dishes that employ this masala. Of course, it’s good for several other recipes as well. This masala includes a lot of chilies and has a rather strong taste. If you’re using tandoori masala, reduce the amount to get the right flavor.

4. Cumin Powder, Black Pepper, And Chili Combo

All three of these spices are part of the curry powder mix. So, you can use cumin powder, black pepper, and chili to form a decent substitution. This mix lacks turmeric, so it won’t provide the same color to the recipe. Although, the flavor will be fairly similar.

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