Tasty Cuisines with Indian Spices

Masala, Spices

Garam Masala

Garam means hot in Hindi, so garam masala means hot masala. Masala basically means a mixture of spices. A masala can either be a combination of dry roasted spices or a paste (such as tandoori masala) made from a mixture of spices and other ingredients like ginger, garlic, onions etc. It is used to add spice and flavor. Garam masala is mostly used in Northern Indian cooking. The name is misleading since the recipe does not contain any chillies. The heat in the name refers to spices that generate internal heat in your body – namely black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. The theory of heating and cooling food is ascribed to Ayurveda, an ancient form of Indian medicine.

Garam Masala Spices

I was under the assumption that garam masala was only used in Indian Cooking. Searching on the internet, I found that garam masala is also used in Iranian cooking. It is linked to a Persian spice blend known as advieh, which means “medicine” in Arabic and presumably originated as a mixture intended to improve the medicinal qualities of food, as well as the flavor, according to Margaret Shaida, author of The Legendary Cuisine of Persia.

Garam masala has its own interpretation in every northern state. Julie Sahni’s cookbook Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking lists a few variants by region – Garam Masala (classic master recipe below from Punjab region), Gujarati and Marathi garam masala. Yamuna Devi lists various garam masala recipe from different regions of India – Delhi, Rajasthani, Gujarati, Punjabi, Maharashtrian (Marathi), Bengali and UP. The recipe below is from Julie Sahni’s cookbook.

Garam Masala

Garam Masala

Garama masala is always added at the end of cooking to enhance the dish with a gentle aroma. I encourage you to make the spice mixture at home instead of buying it in a store. The one in the store is tasteless and stale. It does not have any aroma either. The recipe below is very easy and well worth it to make it at home. It can be stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight container for a 2-3 months.


1/4 cup cumin seeds
1/4 cup coriander seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons cardamom seeds (back or green cardamom pods)
2 whole cinnamon sticks, 3 inches long
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cloves
3 tablespoons black peppercorns
4 bay leaves, broken up
1/2 teaspoons ground mace (optional)

Heat a heavy frying pan fr 2 minutes over medium-high heat.

Combine all the spices (except the mace) and add them to the frying pan. Dry-roast them, stirring and turning them constantly, until all the spices are several shades darker. They should be done in approximately 10 minutes or so. They will exude a spicy and fragrant aroma.

Transfer the roasted spice mixture to a plate to cool it down. After the spices are cooled, grind them into a fine powder using a spice grinder or coffee grinder.

Add the mace to the mixture and mix well. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. It can be stored for up to 3 months or so.

Makes 3/4 cup

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6 Comments to “Garam Masala”

  1. great background information. so is this a hot as in spicy dish?

  2. No, this is not a hot or spicy masala. It is used more to give a dish aroma and taste without overpowering the dish. It is used in various dishes such as Pulao and Biryani (rice dishes), Lentil soups, or any other dish that you fancy.

  3. Here’s my variation on the Garam Masala. I’m allergic to Cinnamon, so have to make all my Indian recipes from scratch, including the Garam Masala. I substitute Nutmeg and Ginger for Cinnamon, and Ginger for Onion (intolerance issues LOL).

    1/4 cup Cumin seeds
    1/4 cup Coriander seeds
    2 tsp. Black Cardamom seeds
    2 tsp. Green Cardamom seeds
    1 tsp. Nutmeg
    1/2 tsp. Turmeric
    1 tsp. Fennel Seed
    2 tsp. Ginger
    1 TB Green Peppercorns
    1 1/2 tsp. Whole Cloves
    3 TB Tellicherry Black Pepper seeds
    1 TB Sweet Basil
    1 tsp. Ground Mace

    Often, I’ll add Pink Peppercorns to the dish as well, but not the Garam Masala directly. Thats because anyone allergic to Mangoes, Poison Ivy, or Cashew Nuts, might react to the Pink Peppercorns. Most people don’t know they even are allergic to Pink Peppercorns, as thats not tested for.

  4. Thanks for the recipe. It is interesting that people could be allergic to pink peppercorns. As for as your being allergic to Cinnamon, have you tried using non-US grown Cinnamon? Since Cinnamon is so popular in the US, I am guessing it would have been genetically modified to make it cheaper and thus possibly causing allergies. Just a thought.

  5. I react to the Organic, non-gmo stuff too. LOL Its the protein in the cinnamon I’m reacting too. It certainly makes eating out at authentic Indian and Asian restaurants nearly impossible. P F Changs is the only Asian restaurant I know of, that might be able to accomodate me as he understands allergies.

    Usually, its the protein in a food that people are allergic too. Also, people can be allergic to any food, natural flavor, coloring, additive, artificial flavor, and so on because they all contain a protein of some sort. I just learned this recently. Odd, isn’t it. LOL

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