Best Garam Masala Substitutes

If you’re an Indian food lover, then chances are high that you know garam masala. This widely used spice blend is aromatic and delicious. However, finding good garam masala can be quite the task. If you’re looking for garam masala substitutes, you’ve come to the right place! Learn all about garam masala, as well as some good substitutes for it, in our article below!

What is Garam Masala?

Garam masala is a spice blend used in Indian cuisine. It can be found in curries, soups, and pretty much any other Indian dish you can think of. This complex spice blend can vary in ingredients, but some of the staple spices include the following:

  • Cinnamon
  • Peppercorns
  • Cardamom
  • Mustard seeds
  • Coriander seeds
  • Cumin
  • Cloves
  • Mace
  • Nutmeg

Traditionally, these spices are combined in their whole form in a pan, and then lightly toasted. This releases their aromatic flavors. Once toasted to the right degree, they are then ground up into a powder.

Garam masala translates to “warming spices.” Dishes that use garam masala are meant to warm the body and increase the metabolism.

What Does it Taste Like?

Garam masala is a complex spice blend, meaning that the flavors it provides are complex, as well. The cinnamon provides a warm, sweet flavor. Contrasting that, the peppercorns bring a bit of heat to the mix. Cardamom makes the blend fragrant, while coriander is tangy in some instances.

The strongest flavor in garam masala will depend entirely on the recipe. Unfortunately, there are no set recipes for garam masala, traditionally speaking. The mix of spices is highly dependent upon the region it was made in. Typically, garam masala that comes from the northern regions of India are warmer, and more aromatic. They have a mild heat. Southern garam masala increases the heat, making it a very spicy blend.

Why Does Garam Masala Need to Be Replaced in Recipes?

This is a great question. For the most part, it’s because store-bought garam masala lacks flavor. Because the spices are toasted, then ground, garam masala spice blends tend to lose flavor over time. They’re not nearly as strong as they should be. When utilizing garam masala in a recipe, you should consider preparing the spice blend yourself, if you’re able to. If not, you’ll likely want to replace it with some of the ingredients listed in this article!

Common Substitutes for Garam Masala

If you don’t have access to garam masala, or don’t have the time to make it yourself, there are some commonly found substitutes for garam masala. Chances are high that you can find these options on the shelves of your local grocery store, or in your pantry already!

Curry Powder

Curry powder is one of the most common substitutes for garam masala. It’s the best option for someone who doesn’t have a lot of spices on hand, or the ability to purchase a lot of spices. It lacks the warming spices that garam masala has, but it has a complex flavor palate. This makes it a decent substitute for garam masala in a pinch.

Curry powder was invented by the British for this reason exactly. It has been used as a substitute for complex Indian spice blends since its creation. Some of the ingredients in curry powder are in garam masala as well, like coriander, cumin, and pepper. Curry is an excellent substitute in a pinch.

Allspice and Cumin

If you’ve got some spices in your cabinet, you may already have Allspice and cumin available. When mixed together, these two spices are a great substitution for garam masala. Allspice has flavors that resemble the cinnamon, cloves, pepper, and nutmeg you’ll find in garam masala. Mixing it with cumin covers a lot of the bases that garam masala hits.

When mixing these two together, it should be mixed at a ratio of 4 parts Allspice to 1 part cumin. This helps prevent the cumin from becoming an overpowering flavor in your dishes.

Blending More Complex Spices

If you’d like to try your hand at making a dedicated garam masala substitute that isn’t quite garam masala, you can add a few household spices together. Again, this isn’t garam masala, but it gets pretty close to the complexity and depth that you’ll find in that spice blend.

When making this DIY spice blend, mix your ingredients at the following ratio:

  • 4 parts toasted coriander
  • 2 parts cumin
  • 2 parts black peppercorns
  • 1 part ground cardamom
  • 1 part ground cinnamon
  • 1 part cloves
  • 1 part nutmeg

Mixing all of these will get you fairly close to the taste and warm feeling that garam masala provides. You can also modify these ratios depending on your personal preferences. This can help you mimic the warmer, more aromatic blends from the northern region, or the heat-filled blends from the southern regions.

You should also consider toasting your ingredients after you’ve blended them together. This can be accomplished by using a skillet set to a low heat. Don’t toast for too long, though! This can burn the spices, completely destroying the aromatic effects that you’ve just released.

Frequently Asked Questions About Garam Masala

What dishes is garam masala used in?

There are a number of different dishes that garam masala is used in. It can be added to just about anything, but some of the more popular options are curries, chicken masala, chicken biryani, and matar paneer.

What spices are used in garam masala?

There are a number of spices used in garam masala, and some traditional recipes call for over 30 different ingredients. However, the ingredients found in almost all garam masala recipes are cinnamon, cardamom, peppercorns, nutmeg, coriander, cloves, mace, mustard seeds, and cumin.

When should garam masala be added to a dish?

Unlike other spice blends, garam masala is pretty specific for use. When cooking with garam masala, it’s best to add garam masala near the end. This keeps the already cooked spices from overcooking, which is important. It can also be added after the dish has finished cooking.

If you’re looking for more substitutions like this, be sure to visit us at Cook Gem! We have plenty of recipes and preservation information. Be sure to check it out!


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