Garam masala is a spice blend that most likely originated in northern India. Since its invention, it has migrated south and is now used all over the subcontinent. There are numerous regional variations of garam masala. For example, the garam masala blends in India’s southern states are spicier than those from the north. The number of spices in garam masala blends varies widely with some versions using upwards of 30 ingredients, which means that there is no one true garam masala flavor. All garam masala blends are complex, sweet, and aromatic. Below are some of the most popular applications for the spice mix.
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As a condiment or finishing spice at the table
The traditional way that people in India use garam masala is to sprinkle it over food right before eating it. Adding garam masala at the table allows you to enjoy the full flavor of the spice blend without any loss of pungency from cooking.
As a dry rub or marinade spice
All of the spices in garam masala are great for grilling and commonly show up in dry rubs and marinades. You can use garam masala either as a complete dry rub, or you can add it as an accent to a dry rub or marinade recipe.
As a dessert spice
Depending on the ingredients in a garam masala blend, you may be able to use it in desserts and breakfast breads. Garam masala can include spices commonly associated with sweet dishes in Europe and North America, spices like cinnamon and cloves. You can use a garam masala blend with sweet spices at the forefront in everything from gingerbread to apple pie.
As an oil spice
One of the ways that Indian cooks use garam masala is at the start of the dish, where the whole spices are cooked in oil to release their flavors. The flavorful and aromatic oil is then used in the dish. Cumin, cloves, and cardamom are among the garam masala spices that get heated in oil at the start of cooking. Some versions include bay leaf, which is technically an herb but is more often used as a spice.
As a pumpkin spice
The spices in garam masala are mainly associated with the fall in the Northern Hemisphere. Garam masala spices are often used with one of the main kinds of fall produce: gourds. Nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves are commonly paired with winter squash and pumpkin. The spices in garam masala show up in pumpkin dishes from savory pumpkin soup and roasted acorn squash to sweets like pumpkin pie.
As the spice mix in chicken tikka masala
Most of the spices in the popular garam masala blends are the same as those used in chicken tikka masala. Garam masala is often suggested as a shortcut blend for those outside of India, since the blend is relatively easy to find in Europe and North America. Follow your preferred tikka masala recipe and add garam masala in place of all the powdered spices.