Curry Powder and Garam Masala

As you progress along your journey of discovery through the world of Indian cooking, you are bound to bump into this little conundrum at some point.

Is there a difference between Curry Powder and Garam Masala? They are both Indian spice blends, right?

Right. But that’s about where the similarity ends.


Freshly ground Curry Powder


Curry Powder is a gentle, versatile spice mix. You probably have some in your spice drawer right now – sprinkle on eggs or add to a creamy soup for a pop of flavour. You might’ve even used it to make a curry.  

This mix makes a great starting point for many curries. It is usually a combination of ground up coriander seeds, cumin seeds, chilli, turmeric and mustard seeds plus other spices depending on the brand. 

Interestingly, you will rarely find Curry Powder in a traditional Indian kitchen. Instead, you will find a spice box or a ‘masale-dani’. This spice box has many little jars containing small quantities of frequently used spices that get added into the dish individually.  

Freshly ground Garam Masala

Garam Masala on the other hand is a different kettle of fish. It is a potent combination of warming spices that add heat and depth to a dish. It is usually made with Cloves, Star anise, Cinnamon, Cardamom, Black pepper, nutmeg, bay leaves and other intensely flavoured spices. 

This masala packs a punch but must be handled with care. It is usually added towards the end of the recipe or for finishing the dish, though some recipes will add it earlier.

Most Indian kitchens will have some version of branded or home made ready-to-use Garam Masala. The trick is to lightly roast the spices to release their oils before grinding them. 

Too much Garam Masala can easily ruin a curry. Over cooking will make it bitter. But just the right amount will add magical layers of complexity and flavour to your dish.

Are Curry Powder and Garam Masala interchangeable? 

Short answer, no. In a pinch you could use Curry Powder if you don’t have Garam Masala on hand, but not the other way around.

If you have any other questions about this or other aspects of Indian cooking, please leave a comment below. Or ask on our Facebook page.

Happy cooking!

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