Can you use curry powder instead of garam masala or vice versa? There’s some confusion in the food forums over the interchangeability of these two spices mixes, not to mention the origin and authenticity of both, so here’s some background to help you with your cooking and spice choices.
Will the Real Curry Spices Please Stand Up
My Indian friends argue that curry powder is not really used in curry - ironically enough - as traditional Indian cooking slowly builds layers of flavour, using both whole spices and freshly ground, adding them at different stages of cooking. Curry powder was a British invention, but food and cuisines are constantly evolving and curry powder has evolved along with consumer taste to now be the star in many recipes. I use curry powder in slow cooker recipes since everything goes in the pot at the beginning anyway. When you have time and want the full eating experience, follow a recipe that shows you when to add each individual spice, whole or ground, how to layer flavour and create depth. For those rushed nights, throw some curry powder in your soup, stew - or yes, even curry. You’re still getting tons of nutrients and health benefits from those amazing spices.
So What's in Curry Powder?
Curry powders vary but usually include turmeric, cumin, coriander, black pepper, chilli powder or cayenne pepper, and ground ginger. Turmeric has gotten a lot of press recently for it’s anti-inflammatory powers and studies linking it to a reduction in cancer growths. What I find fascinating is that we are only now learning how the mix of different foods and spices benefit our bodies, and it turns out there are reasons, beyond the amazing flavour, why certain spices are mixed together. For example, black pepper increases the bioavailability in turmeric, meaning it helps our bodies absorb the nutrients better. This is why in addition to experimenting, it’s great to base our meals on basic outlines from food cultures that have been developed over centuries.
Heat it up with Garam Masala
In Hindi, Masala simply means a mixture of spices and Garam means “hot”, so Garam Masala is translated as “warm or warming spice”. Some food bloggers refer to this as the warmth added to the dish but it actually refers to the warmth added to our bodies as this spice mix was used in the Ayurvedic system of medicine to elevate body temperature to balance systems and metabolism. Although there are different variations, Garam Masala usually centers around five ground spices: cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cloves, cumin. These spices are all major powerhouses of antioxidants and immunity boosters. Together, they can also help ease digestion, boost metabolism, alleviate pain and lower blood sugar levels.
And the Answer is...
So to sum it up, Curry Powder and Garam Masala are spice mixes that can be added to dishes to enhance both flavour and health. Although you could argue they both give dishes an Indian flavour, they focus on a different mix of spices, so you will definitely alter the taste of the dish by using one vs the other. In a pinch, you could use Garam Masala as a substitute for Curry Powder and just add turmeric, cayenne, and a bit more coriander and cumin; you could also use Curry Powder instead of Garam Masala and add more of the warming spices, like cinnamon and cardamom and cloves.
Invest in High Quality Spice Mixes or Make Your Own
At home, we try whenever possible to roast whole spices and grind them fresh. That being said, life gets crazy and it’s pretty handy to have some spice mixes on hand. You can make your own spice mixes and store for up to 6 months or purchase both Garam Masala and Curry Powder on our site. Our spice mixes contain only non-irradiated, organic spices, are salt free and have no fillers (that means no wheat, soy, and other things that get mixed up in commercial spice mixes to lesson the cost).
Time to Answer the Question in the KItchen
Here’s a simple weeknight curry recipe using either Curry Powder or Garam Masala that you can use as a base for exploring:
- heat ghee or coconut oil in a saute pan on low heat, toss in one finely sliced red onion and cook until browned; add a few minced cloves of garlic and a thumb-sized piece of freshly grated ginger and fry for one minute
- option #1: add 1 tablespoon of curry powder
- option #2: add 1 teaspoon of garam masala, 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric, ½ teaspoon of ground coriander, ½ teaspoon of ground cumin, and as much cayenne pepper as you can handle (start with ⅛ teaspoon and work your way up)
- fry the spices with the onions garlic and ginger for a few minutes, then add one chopped tomato and cook for another 5 min until tomatoes soften
- add your meat and/or vegetables
- my favourite meat combo: chicken and spinach; for optimum flavour, go for the thighs and legs, get your butcher to remove the bones but keep them and add them to the curry at the same time as the meat, removing just before serving
- my favourite veg combo: cauliflower, sweet potato & spinach
- put the lid on and simmer over low heat for 35 min to 1 hr (longer for meat/bone dishes, shorter for veg) - add the spinach 1 min before taking off the heat to just wilt the leaves
Serve with brown rice and sliced cucumber for a delicious and health boosting meal.
Get your Fall Spice Box now to make the above recipe and so much more!