Just What Is Garam Masala, Anyway?

Just What Is Garam Masala, Anyway?

Without garam masala, many Indian dishes and cuisines from that region of the world wouldn’t be as vibrant as they are.

Without garam masala, many Indian dishes and cuisines from that region of the world wouldn’t be as vibrant as they are. The spiciness is not unique to Asia and East Asia – but jalapenos and ghost peppers give your mouth a different sensation than hot chilies in curry or the Sichuan peppercorn. Take a minute to think about the spiciness level that kimchi presents or that wasabi give you. All of it is vastly different from anything you might eat when it has garam masala in it.

What Is It?

A blend of various spices is formulated to give the diner the unique flavor of garam masala. You might have tasted curry powder before – that is a close approximation, but it’s not the same thing. All of the constituent spices are toasted before being ground up – this activates the flavor. The name of the blend means “hot spices,” but that doesn’t mean it is always spicy. The powder form is friendly to many different diets – whether those are gluten-free, vegan, or vegetarian. However, the paste form is somewhat more unpredictable, so it is worth investigating to see what ingredients there are.

Different Types

Each variation of garam masala depends on where you find it and who is preparing it. The types you can see from any friendly Asian grocery are delicious enough to compete with the brands that are from the motherland. If you are inclined to travel this summer, then you can find out for yourself. When black pepper is used, it is much milder than when other spices and flavorings are used. Travel further south, and you will find hotter and spicier versions. It’s all a matter of community and family pride to be the best spice-mixer.

Where It Comes From

Early versions of garam masala first appeared in northern India during the time of the Mughal Empire. There is a type of traditional medicine called Ayurvedic medicine, in which it is believed that all of the spices that comprise garam masala warm the body and speed up metabolism. This means that it does more than giving a kick of flavor. Because it is often cold in this part of India, warming spices caught on and eventually made their way as far west as Iran.

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