Tikka masala and curry powder are two Indian-style spice blends tied to the UK. If you want to replicate the popular meals of British curry houses, you should keep both blends around. Each blend has unique qualities but can sometimes be used in the same ways. To see how tikka masala and curry powder compare to each other, check out the SPICEography Showdown below.
Table of contents
How does tikka masala differ from curry powder?
Tikka masala and curry powder have different origin stories. Tikka masala is a relatively recent invention that probably came about in the late 20th century. The most widely agreed-upon story is that it was invented by an immigrant Bangladeshi chef in the UK, even though various people have attempted to claim ownership. Curry powder was invented in the 18th-century, probably by spice merchants who wanted to introduce the UK public to the subcontinent’s exotic flavors.
Tikka masala and curry powder will often have different ingredients. The most basic version of tikka masala won’t include fenugreek. If a tikka masala recipe does include fenugreek, it will usually have the relatively mild fenugreek leaves rather than the more intense seeds. While sweet spices like cinnamon and nutmeg can show up in either blend, you are more likely to see them in tikka masala than you are to see them in curry powder.
Curry powder is more likely to have earthier spices rather than sweet ones. Expect stronger notes of cumin and the deeper flavor of fenugreek seeds. Curry powder may also have curry leaves, which you won’t see in tikka masala. Curry leaves add a sharp citrus note to the mix.
If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?
A typical tikka masala blend will work fine as a curry powder substitute in most recipes, since it has many of the same spices. It will be a particularly good curry powder substitute if it contains fenugreek and turmeric, which aren’t always included in tikka masala. Fenugreek is responsible for much of the flavor of curry powder, and turmeric is where it gets its distinctive yellow color. Tikka masala may not be able to match the nuances of the different kinds of curry powder, like Japanese or West Indian curry powders.
You can use curry powder as a tikka masala substitute, since it shares much of the flavor profile. Keep in mind that curry powder has a stronger fenugreek taste than most kinds of tikka masala, and most curry powders will have a lower proportion of the sweet spices. You can make curry powder more like a sweeter tikka masala by adding more of certain spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.
When should you use tikka masala? And when should you use curry powder?
Use tikka masala when making the classic dish chicken tikka masala or any variant of it. You can also use it as a dry rub and a general seasoning blend.
Use curry powder for classic British curry dishes like mulligatawny soup and kedgeree. While curry powders from different regions all have the same main flavors in common — fenugreek, cumin, and coriander — there are some regional differences. Use Japanese curry powder for Japanese curry and Nigerian curry powder for Nigerian curry. That said, they can all make decent substitutes for each other and are all great in braised dishes and when used as dry rubs.