Garam Masala is a popular and versatile Indian spice. It’s a common ingredient in many Indian recipes and is widely available in India. But it’s not that easily available Stateside and even tends to get a bit expensive. Especially so if you live in a region without Indian stores or similar options. Working with a garam masala substitute might be the most plausible option in some cases.
These substitutes intend to come closer in taste and flavor to garam masala. Replicating the complex taste and flavor is tough, but we can get pretty close with these options!
This masala isn’t a single spice. It’s a blend of several spices, some (or all) of which are roasted, cooled, and ground into a powder. And while a combination of spices, it’s not spicy. Instead, it adds warmth to the food and is generally believed to help metabolism.
Let’s see the options that can give us similar results!
Top Substitutes For Garam Masala For Your Recipe
1. Curry Powder
This is perhaps the quickest substitute. While curry powder doesn’t have the same taste and flavor profile, it benefits from the close affinity to Indian cuisine and its spices.
Curry powder is largely a British mix made to match Indian flavors. While it isn’t quite a full replacement, it helps add some flavor to meals. Keep in mind, this powder will change the appearance of the dish. Curry powder contains turmeric. While this spice is often used in curries, it is wholly absent from garam masala.
Expect a yellow tinge to your dish with curry powder. If the dish already has a yellowish color, this may not be as big a problem. In some other dishes, the color might seem out of place.
You can use it in a 1:1 ratio to replace garam masala.
2. Sambhar Masala
Sambhar Masala comes close to matching the taste and flavor of garam masala. This spice mix is common in South Indian dishes and contains several spices. These include cumin, dry red chilies, mustard seeds, dry coconut, and a few more.
It can work as a replacement for the same amount. This fragrant mix adds a similar depth of flavor. The latter is thanks to Sambhar masala being a complex mix with several spices. That layering of flavors can match the complexity of garam masala.
Since both these spice mixes are intended for different purposes, it’s not an exact substitution. However, thanks to them having many spices in common, the substitution is workable in many instances.
3. Chaat Masala
Another Indian blend of spices, Chaat Masala gets real close to capturing the essence of garam masala. The original purpose of this spice mix is to work as a garnish for a large group of savory dishes called chaat.
Since it is a complex mix of spices and used as a garnish, it works well as a substitute. Chaat masala has a more pronounced, sharper, tangier taste. It works wonders when used with chaats, but may not be as desirable for your recipe.
Test it in small quantities in a spoonful of the dish first. You can then increase the amount to suit your taste. Since it is best used as a garnish, this taste-test process is simple.
4. Allspice + Cumin
This combo can provide a passable garam masala replacement or even a copycat. Allspice and cumin combo has the same warming feel, though without the complexity that the mix of several spices provides.
Some careful calculations must be used when creating this mix. Use one part cumin and ¼ part allspice. Though this uses only two spices, it manages to include a flavor of many. Allspice is so named because it has taste undertones of cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. This is also the reason we add less of allspice – so it doesn’t overwhelm the flavor of the spice mix.
So, with just a mix of two spices, you can get a fairly decent and warming flavor. It is an easy substitute, even if not an ideal one.
Spice Mixes To Replace Garam Masala
Garam masala is a blend of several spices. So, a mix of some spices can work as a close substitute if you’re in a bind. Apart from the allspice and cumin mix listed above, the following are worth a shot as well.
1. Cinnamon + Fenugreek + Cloves
If you have some cinnamon, cloves, and fenugreek at hand, they can make a decent substitute. Start with equal amounts of cinnamon and cloves and roast them on a pan on low heat. You can even throw fenugreek into this mix, but it is bitter and tends to get more bitter with roasting. My suggestion is to skip roasting it.
Once the cinnamon and cloves are done roasting, mix them with fenugreek. Use only a small quantity, about ¼ to ⅓ of the amount of cloves. Put them all in a blender and let it run until you get a fine powder. An aromatic and quick substitute is ready.
2. Cumin + Coriander Seeds + Cardamom
Cumin, coriander seeds, and cardamom can all go into making garam masala. So, they can form a nice flavorful base to use as a substitute, even if not an ideal one. Start with a teaspoon of cumin, two teaspoons of dried coriander seeds, and half a teaspoon of cardamom pods.
Roast them over low heat in a pan. The next step is to toss the mix into a blender until you get a fine powder. Cardamom pods are often used for this, but I’d suggest you give a shot to black cardamom. It gives better color and texture while keeping things aromatic and delicious.
What Is Garam Masala?
Garam masala is a blend of spices. It isn’t intended to be spicy – its function is to provide a warming effect (garam translates to warm, masala translates to spice or spice mix). The masala is generally used as a garnish.
This carefully crafted blend is very popular in India and a good companion to Indian cuisine. Although, it has its uses for other recipes as well. A mix of several spices, this masala is complex and needs a careful balancing of flavors.
Though used as a garnish, it adds a wonderful flavor, there are times when you can skip adding it to your dish. This is true for meals that need only a small amount of garnish. If your recipe specifically calls for adding a garnish of the masala, it may not be a good idea to skip it.
Make Your Garam Masala At Home With This Recipe
Here’s a quick recipe to make your own masala at home. Of course, this assumes that you have easy access to all the variety of spices necessary for this mix. Some varieties of garam masala can have well over a dozen ingredients. We’re not going for the overly complex mix. The recipe here is a simple, straightforward, household mix.
Ingredients And What You’ll Need
All measurements here are for ground spices. If you prefer, you can use whole spices too, but know that it will make the process a bit more difficult.
- Black cardamom – 1 to 1½ teaspoons (tsp)
- Cumin – 1 tsp
- Dried coriander seeds – 1½ tsp
- Cloves – ½ tsp
- Cinnamon – 1 tsp
- Black pepper – 1 or 1½ tsp
- An airtight jar to hold the prepared garam masala
Black cardamom is known by several names, including hill cardamom, big cardamom, and greater cardamom. The pods are brown-black and much larger than conventional (green) cardamoms. This aromatic Indian spice is an important ingredient of the masala. However, if you need a replacement, use the following.
- Nutmeg – 1 tsp
- Cardamom (green) – ½ tsp
The combo of these spices will cover the color and freshness that using the black cardamom brings. In my opinion, if you are going to make the spice at home, go with the classic ingredients. Black cardamom is the preferred choice for garam masala.
Additionally, you’ll need the following equipment (if you’re using whole spices) to cook the recipe.
- Pan or skillet for roasting spices
- A good quality blender/grinder
Put It Together
If you’re using ground spices, your job’s done once you’ve put them all together. Mix all the ingredients well and the masala is ready! Put it in an airtight container and use as required.
Those using whole spices will need to go through a couple more steps. It takes more effort but is worth it.
Step 1 – If You’re Using Whole Spices
Get roasting. You can put all the spices in a skillet or pan and roast them. Keep the heat low and move them around often so they don’t burn. You’ll notice, there is a difference in how these spices react to roasting.
Coriander seeds are rather quick on the take and will be done quickly. Black cardamom and cinnamon, however, take their sweet time getting there. The other spices fall somewhere in between.
If this presents a problem, roast the spices individually or in pairs. For example, coriander seeds can go alone or with cumin, cinnamon and black cardamom can go together, cloves and black peppercorn can partner up.
Once you’re done roasting, allow the spices to cool down for a couple of minutes.
Step 2 – Get Grinding The Whole Spices
Place all the ingredients in a blender/grinder and let it do its job. You’ll want a fine grind, though some variations are acceptable.
Your garam masala is ready. Let it sit for a few minutes, then pour into an airtight jar.
Choosing An Alternative To The Warming Spice Garnish
The warming and flavorful aspects of the masala are well worth the effort to use it. But, its requirements are not so inflexible. You can get a decent garam masala substitute for the job if you’re in a tight spot. This article from Cook on Monday includes several alternatives, including some complex and convenient ones.