Masala is the word for spice mix in Hindi. Both chaat masala and garam masala are mixtures of spices. Both can be used as general-purpose spice blends despite the fact that there are some crucial differences between them. In this SPICEography Showdown, we’ll look at what those differences are and the best ways to use each blend.
What is the difference between chaat masala and garam masala?
Chaat masala is formulated for use on chaat, which are savory fried snacks served by street vendors in India. Chaat can consist of pieces of potato or dough as well as samosas and fritters (pakora). Indian immigrants to the US have adapted it for use on a range of American dishes including onion rings and fries.
While most Indian spice blends have to be cooked to release their flavor, chaat masala can be consumed either cooked or uncooked. Along with flavoring chaat, chaat masala is traditionally used to flavor nuts in addition to being sprinkled over fresh fruit or salads as a condiment. Its flavor is tart and comes from the mango powder it contains. Some blends include a spice made from dried pomegranate seeds called anardana that adds to the tartness. Chaat masala includes several spices that are widely used in the west, including cumin and coriander; however, it also has spices that are all but unknown in most western kitchens like black salt and asafoetida.
Garam masala translates to hot spices and its traditional use in India is in cooked dishes. The word hot in the name does not necessarily refer to the peppery heat of the spices in the blend but can mean that they were toasted before being ground. The blend is highly aromatic and includes cardamom, mace, and black peppercorns. Unlike chaat masala, the spices typically used in garam masala blends are all familiar to westerners; in fact, you may have many of them in your spice cabinet.
Can you use one of these spice blends in place of the other?
The two spice blends do have a few components in common, which means that their flavor profiles can share many of the same notes. As a result, chaat masala can serve as a garam masala substitute as long as you keep in mind that it has a strong sour component. The tartness of the blend may keep it from being an ideal substitute in some dishes though it may actually be an asset in others.
On the other hand, garam masala is a good chaat masala substitute if you add the mango powder separately or substitute another souring agent like citric acid or citrus juice. Most recipes for homemade chaat masala require garam masala to be used as the base for the sake of convenience. Asafoetida, black salt, and mango powder are added to the garam masala along with any other spices the maker wants to use.
When should you use chaat masala and when should you use garam masala?
Chaat masala is great for use on raw fruit and vegetables and can also be used in dishes that require tartness. Add it at the last minute to perk up the flavor of a dish. Use garam masala in curries, lentil dishes like dal, and in soups. Because the spices in garam masala are widely used in western cooking, its flavors are at home in many western dishes as well. Use it in a pumpkin soup or as a part of a dry rub for grilled meat.