Know All About Garam Masala

June 24, 2020 5 min read

Know All About Garam Masala

Know All About Garam Masala

In contrast to much of Western Cuisine, the cuisine of much of South and Southeast Asia is characterized by their use of a huge number of spice and herb blends. As immigrants from various countries continue to settle in the US they bring with them their culinary traditions as well, and with the recent popularity of the international food scene on television as well as on Social Media we are seeing more people discovering the wondrous world of spices and spicy dishes. 


"Indian Food" as the as the cuisine of South Asia is often mistakenly collectively labeled, is one such popular cuisine in the US and abroad (in the UK the Indian inspired Chicken Tikka Masala is considered their national dish). Easily identifiable by its vast array of curries, street food items, and desserts all containing various ranges of exotic ingredients and spices, Indian cuisine is probably the first of the exotic cuisines that people think of (not counting the local Chinese takeout, most of whose offerings were created in the US). The one ubiquitous spice that you will see in almost all south Asian and Indian savory foods is the one termed "Garam masala" and today we're going to take a deeper look into what this spice blend is and a few of its uses.


The term "Masala" in Sanskrit means "mixture" or in this case, "spice blend" and the term "garam" means "heat" (not in terms of the heat of chilis, but warmth), so the individual spice ingredients in a "garam masala" tend to be those which exude feelings of warmth. Akin to the French "herbes de Provence" and Chinese "five-spice powder" Garam masala is a blended mix of spices. Although, there is a certain base mixture composed of certain spices, each region, or even each cook can add various other spices and ingredients to create a unique blend. So, to speak, there is an infinite number of combinations and permutations that can all be justifiably called garam masala, thus no two garam masala brands are alike.


Endless varieties notwithstanding, the vast majority of garam masala blends will contain at least these items, cumin, peppercorns (white or black), cardamom (black or green), cloves, bay leaves, coriander seeds and cinnamon (most will contain at least 5 of these 7 spices). There are no specific rules about quantities of each but there tends to be much less of the stronger and spicier aromatics like cloves, cardamom and cinnamon and greater amounts of cumin and coriander. Additional ingredients that may be considered are fennel, nutmeg, mace, star anise, etc.


For the ultimate freshness, each set of ingredients should be individually roasted to fully bring out their flavor, and then they may be used either whole or ground up into a powder. Whole spices would impart a more subtle flavor to the dish and can be removed after cooking is done while ground masala gives a much stronger flavor. For convenience sake, buying ready-made "garam masala" might be the best option but one might need to try different brands to find one that is to their preference. Care must be taken to store the masala correctly because the essential oils in the spices evaporate faster once ground and the spice blend loses its potency much quicker than if the spices were kept whole. They must also be stored in a dry, cool place and away from sunlight.

Depending on the blend, whole or ground, when its added to the cooking process, the taste of the dish will differ. It is an issue of one's personal preference. If you're not used to using Indian spices, we can understand that the prospect could be quite daunting, so to help you along we're including one of the most famous dishes of Indian Cuisine to get you started.


Butter Chicken is creamy and easy to make right at home in one pan with simple ingredients! Full of incredible flavors, it rivals any Indian restaurant! Aromatic golden chicken pieces in an incredible creamy curry sauce, this Butter Chicken recipe is one of the best you will try!






For the chicken marinade:

  • 28 Oz (800g) boneless and skinless chicken thighs or breasts cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger (or finely grated)
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt

For the sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons ghee (or 1 tbsp butter + 1 tbsp oil)
  • 1 large onion, sliced or chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, minced or finely grated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 14 oz (400 g) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder(adjust to your preference)
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
  • 1 cup of heavy or thickened cream (or evaporated milk to save calories)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kasoori methi (or dried fenugreek leaves)


  • In a bowl, combine chicken with all of the ingredients for the chicken marinade; let marinate for 30 minutes to an hour (or overnight if time allows).
  • Heat oil in a large skillet or pot over medium-high heat. When sizzling, add chicken pieces in batches of two or three, making sure not to crowd the pan. Fry until browned for only 3 minutes on each side. Set aside and keep warm. (You will finish cooking the chicken in the sauce.)
  • Heat butter or ghee in the same pan. Fry the onions until they start to sweat (about 6 minutes) while scraping up any browned bits stuck on the bottom of the pan. 
  • Add garlic and ginger and sauté for 1 minute until fragrant, then add ground coriander, cumin, and garam masala. Let cook for about 20 seconds until fragrant, while stirring occasionally.
  • Add crushed tomatoes, chili powder, and salt. Let simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally until sauce thickens and becomes a deep brown-reddish color.
  • Remove from heat, scoop mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. You may need to add a couple of tablespoons of water to help it blend (up to 1/4 cup). Work in batches depending on the size of your blender.
  • Pour the puréed sauce back into the pan. Stir the cream, sugar, and crushed kasoori methi (or fenugreek leaves) through the sauce. Add the chicken with juices back into the pan and cook for an additional 8-10 minutes until chicken is cooked through and the sauce is thick and bubbling.
  • Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with fresh, hot garlic butter rice and fresh homemade Naan bread!


OPTIONAL: To thin out the sauce, add a couple of tablespoons of ghee or butter at the end of cooking, and gently simmer it through. Alternatively, add a small amount of water.


Calories: 580 kcal | Carbohydrates: 17g | Protein: 36g | Fat: 41g | Saturated Fat: 19g | Cholesterol: 250mg | Sodium: 1601mg | Potassium: 973mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 1895 IU | Vitamin C: 19.5mg | Calcium: 171mg | Iron: 4.1mg 


** These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. .... U.S. Food and Drug Administration.





Asim Mehmood
Asim Mehmood

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