Both curry powder and garam masala are spice blends that can be used to add color and flavor to a dish. While curry powder appears to be a British invention, garam masala is authentic and widely used on the sub-continent; however, the exact blend of spices used to make it varies from region to region. But what else separates these two popular Indian cuisine seasonings? How different are the spices and flavors? Let’s dive in with another SPICEography Showdown.
Garam Masala vs. Curry Powder
The word “garam” in Hindi means hot and “masala” means blended spices. Garam masala is generally used as a finishing spice for a dish and is stirred in after the dish has been cooked to preserve the robust and aromatic flavors of the spice blend. The word “curry” is thought to come from the Tamil word “kari” referring to a thin sauce used for meat and vegetables. Premixed curry powder is typically used during the cooking process, not solely as a finishing spice.
One of the key differences between these two spice mixes is the fact that garam masala is not based on turmeric, which is the main ingredient in many curry powder variants. Turmeric is the root that gives conventional curry powders their bright yellow appearance. Garam masala has a sweeter taste when compared to curry powders and usually includes cinnamon, nutmeg, and cardamom along with many other spices.
Can garam masala be used as a substitute for curry powder or vice versa?
While both spice mixes do contain many of the same ingredients, the flavor profiles are noticeably different. For starters, turmeric does not have a particularly strong flavor. This means that the flavor of curry powder is usually relatively mild. Much of curry powder’s flavor is due to the fenugreek, cumin and other spices used in it and not the turmeric. On the other hand, garam masala consists entirely of pungent spices and thus has a stronger flavor. It may therefore be added to curry powder to make it more flavorful; however, the flavor differences mean that the two spice mixes serve different purposes and are not interchangeable.
Is one of these spice mixes more readily available than the other?
Curry powder is more widely known in the western world and will usually be easier to find when compared to garam masala. Most grocery stores will have a selection of curry powders available on the spice aisle but pre-mixed garam masala may be harder to find.
Are both garam masala and curry powder easy to make?
Those who are confident enough to follow a recipe that may include the toasting and grinding of multiple spices should definitely try putting together their own curry powder and garam masala. Many of the spices used in these mixes are easy to find. Larger supermarkets will have many of them in stock and you should be able to find all of them in Indian stores.
However, purchasing and using the vast number of spices needed for authentic recipes may be challenging for inexperienced cooks. They may find the use of pre-mixed curry powder and garam masala to be a much more workable alternative.