One of the secret ingredients to curry is a good garam masala spice blend. This is a warming blend of spices that bring a bit of heat to dishes, giving it the intense flavors your mouth waters for (or at least, ours does!).
We get that the Indian spice blend is difficult to find, though. Even we have trouble searching for it in our local grocery store sometimes!
While there are fewer substitutes for garam masala that can nail the flavors of the original spice, there are other blends you can try that will still taste just as amazing.
Check out our recommendations for what you can replace garam masala with!
The Best Garam Masala Replacements
Garam masala is a spice blend you’ll find in Indian cuisine, whether it’s Indian curries, soups, or lentil dishes. Garam masala translates to ‘warming spices,’ intending to warm the body and increase metabolism. Not to mention, improve the flavors and warmth of dishes!
It’s made of whole spices like peppercorns, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon, mace, and cardamom pods, which are toasted in a pan, releasing aromatic flavors. The blend will then be ground to a powder.
We can purchase garam masala in Asian specialty stores, or they can be found on the international aisle of supermarkets. However, not all stores carry this spice blend, so there are alternatives to garam masala we can use.
Don’t worry, these alternatives still bring out the warm flavors we yearn for! Check out what garam masala substitute you can use:
1. Curry Powder
Curry comes from the Tamil word, ‘Kari,’ meaning sauce. Curry powder, like garam masala, is a spice blend that consists of cumin, coriander, chili pepper, fenugreek, and turmeric. It won’t completely capture garam masala’s flavor, but it has a similar garam masala taste.
We can find curry powder in supermarkets as it’s more common. This makes it a quick alternative that still captures the essence of garam masala.
That said, curry powder would change the dish’s appearance because of the presence of turmeric. So, expect your dish to have a yellow hue, compared to the brown one garam masala brings.
When using curry powder, you can use a 1:1 ratio.
2. Chaat Masala
Chaat masala isn’t a perfect match but is still a suitable garam masala substitute. This consists of a cooling blend of spices, a bit different than the warming effect garam masala has on dishes.
It’s sweet, salty, and tangy, a mix of spices you can find in many Indian dishes. Expect a zingier taste with the sharp notes underscored by umami and heat. Note that using a chaat masala substitute will make a dish slightly sour with less warmth.
3. Sambar Masala
Sambar Masala has a warming appeal but adds more heat and fragrance. It uses similar ingredients like garam masala with complexity that other simpler substitutes for garam masala can’t achieve.
If you have no garam masala around, you can try sambar masala. We recommend adding half of what the recipe calls for and building up the amount until you reach your desired flavor.
Allspice is also called Jamaican pepper, new spice, or myrtle pepper. It’s made of dried fruit from the P.diocica plant. The fruits are harvested when green then dried under the sun until they are brown, looking like big peppercorns.
The dried fruit is then finely ground, producing aromatic fragrances and a strong tasting of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. You can find allspice in Palestinian, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern cuisine.
We recommend mixing cumin and allspice to have a more authentic garam masala flavor. Mix 1 part cumin with ¼ part allspice, and you’re good to go.
5. Pumpkin Spice
Pumpkin spice isn’t the obvious choice, but you can still use this as a garam masala replacement. But you’ll need to make some changes!
Pumpkin spice is made of clove, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. We usually use this for sweet dishes, but you can use it for savory ones as well.
It provides the similar warmth garam masala offers, but a few ingredients are missing. There isn’t any black pepper, cumin, or coriander, so we recommend adding those three seasonings, which you most likely have at home.
Just make sure that you use the powdered spice mix and not a syrup. This is an obvious tip, but hey, we all make cooking mistakes. We’ve been there.
6. Ras el Hanout
Ras el hanout is another good option: a North African spice mix consisting of multiple ingredients, similar to garam masala. The core ingredients are cinnamon, clove, cardamom, cumin, coriander, and nutmeg.
This spice is hotter than garam masala, so you may want to add less than what the recipe asks for first. Or, if you like it hot, use a 1:1 ratio for more warmth!
That said, ras el hanout might be more difficult to find than garam masala! But sometimes they are available in specialty stores as well. If you find this spice but can’t find any garam masala, consider using it.
7. Homemade Garam Masala Spice Blend
Yes, we can make our own garam masala! Here are the ingredients:
- 1 tablespoon of ground cumin
- 1 ½ teaspoon of ground coriander
- 1 ½ teaspoon of ground cardamom
- 1 ½ teaspoon of ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon of ground cloves
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl and whisk until they combine well. Store it in an airtight container and use it as needed.
Better yet, get the whole version of these ingredients and toast them. Here’s another recipe to try:
- 3 parts cinnamons
- 3 parts coriander seeds
- 1 part cloves
- 1 part cumin
- ½ part black pepper
- ½ part cardamom
- ½ part nutmeg
- Star anise, fennel seeds, bay leaves (optional)
Toast these ingredients for a few minutes to unleash its flavors completely!
You might also want to add cassia bark, which is a stronger version of cinnamon.
Mace is also a good replacement for nutmeg, or you can use it as a substitute for garam masala itself.
Roast your spices in a pan on medium heat, making sure the spices are in an even layer. Shake the pan now and then to avoid burning your spices, cooking until they all release an aroma.
You can then grind spices using a pestle and mortar, which is the traditional way. Or you can use a coffee grinder or food processor. If you have none of those, place the toasted spices in a plastic bag, crushing them using a rolling pin.
Frequently Asked Questions
Wait, we’ve got more to teach about this wonderful spice blend! Learn more about garam masala from these frequently asked questions:
1. What’s the difference between garam masala and curry powder?
Garam masala and curry powder add color and flavor to dishes, but the former has no turmeric, which is the main ingredient in curry powder. Furthermore, garam masala is used as the final seasoning in recipes, while we use masala curry powder earlier during the cooking process.
2. What can I make with garam masala?
There are many recipes you can prepare with garam masalas, such as:
All of these have intense flavors that warm the body with the right spice blends. You can also use the garam masala substitutes above for these dishes!
3. What’s the difference between garam masala and tandoori masala?
Masala means ‘spice blend,’ so both garam and tandoori masalas have spicy and flavorful mixes you can find in Indian cuisines. However, they both have different components and uses.
Garam masala would season cooked food and is added towards the end of the recipe for better flavor. Whereas with tandoori masala, you use it to marinate meats in a clay oven, known as a tandoor.
Wrapping It Up
Garam masala is an important component in many Indian dishes, but if you have none on hand, you can use any of replacements above. You get to explore different flavors and find which is best for you, too!
We hope you found a suitable substitute for garam masala based on our list! Try them out, and let us know which one worked best for you in the comments section below. Your thoughts are much appreciated.