Ras el hanout and garam masala are two spice blends that some in the west would consider exotic. While many of the spices used in each are familiar to western palates, blends that include all of them may not be. It is true that the same ingredients often show up in each blend, but ras el hanout and garam masala still manage to be very different spice mixes with very different characteristics. For this installment of SPICEography Showdown, here is a comparison of these blends to make choosing between them easier.
How are ras el hanout and garam masala different from each other?
The first significant factor that makes ras el hanout different from garam masala is that it comes from a different part of the world. Ras el hanout is a North African blend while garam masala comes from India. Keep in mind that the exact components of each blend can vary from region to region and beyond that, they can also differ based on the preferences of the cooks putting them together.
Aside from region of origin, another big difference is in the number of ingredients. Ras el hanout is known for the vast number of ingredients that may be included in a single blend. While the traditional ras el hanout will have about 12 spices, more luxurious blends of the spice can have literally dozens of spices. There are blends with more than 80 ingredients. Exotic ingredients used in these blends can include various flower petals and Spanish fly. In comparison, garam masala blends will typically have only about eight spices and those usually include cardamom along with cinnamon and cloves.
The spices used in garam masala will be toasted or fried before being ground. The spices in ras el hanout will not usually be toasted though there is no rule against doing this.
Can you use one as a substitute for the other?
Because these two spice blends can have the same ingredients, they can also have similar flavor profiles. The key will be to find blends that have either the same spices or spices that are alike in flavor.
Even when ras el hanout and garam masala blends do have different ingredients, they can still be similar enough to be interchangeable. Both will usually work well with the same dishes despite having a different flavor profile. That said, a ras el hanout blend with numerous spices will probably be more complex when compared to a standard garam masala blend.
Both spice blends are formulated for use in savory dishes and can be used as rubs on meat that you intend to grill or added to liquids used for braising.
When should you use garam masala and when should you use ras el hanout?
If you are making a traditional North African meal, a well-rounded ras el hanout blend will be your best bet for getting an authentic taste. Ras el hanout is the spice blend responsible for the distinctive flavor of Moroccan tagines among other dishes.
Opt for garam masala if you are making Indian dishes. Indian cooks use it in multiple ways. It may be added during the cooking process or sprinkled on cooked food. It is a popular addition to vegetarian dishes as well.