What Is Chai Masala? Here's Everything You Need to Know About This Warming Spice Blend

·4 min read

As a main component of chai tea, chai masala is a zesty spice blend that you'll want to keep in your pantry. It boasts a delightfully warm and spicy flavor, and while it is a delicious element in that beloved beverage, it's also a superb ingredient in recipes that need an extra kick. What's more, it does an excellent job of elevating homemade treats like cakes, pies, and even oatmeal. Ahead, learn about the earthy spice blend and our favorite ways to use it in your own kitchen.

Related: These Are the Spice Blends Our Test Kitchen Always Keeps on Hand

What Is Chai Masala?

Chai masala is a spice blend typically made of ingredients like cardamom, fennel, cinnamon, and clove, according to Meherwan Irani, chef and founder of spice company Spicewalla and the Chai Pani Restaurant Group. It's primarily used to make masala chai, a spiced Indian tea. The drink is also known as "chai tea" in Western countries, but this term is technically incorrect. For starters, the Indian word for tea is "chai," according to Irani. This means "chai tea" translates to, well, "tea tea." Moreover, chai is the generic term for any strong and sweet Indian beverage that's made with black tea, milk, and sugar, says Irani. It may also be flavored with "fresh ginger, lemongrass, mint, or some combination of the above," he explains. If it's brewed with the spice blend mentioned above, it's called "masala chai" or "spiced tea," which is the more accurate term for the beloved spicy drink. Bottom line: "Chai" means tea, "masala" mean spice, and the order of these words determine its definition, according to cookbook author and recipe developer Nik Sharma. Specifically, chai masala refers to a spice blend, while masala chai is the spiced tea.

Spices for Indian masala chaii
Spices for Indian masala chaii

AnnaPustynnikova / Getty Images

How to Use Chai Masala Blends

Of course, the most common way to use a chai masala blend is to make a spiced tea. A typical mix has ingredients like ground cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, cardamom, black pepper, and/or fennel, though the exact ingredients might differ depending on the manufacturer or recipe. If you're making your own chai masala blend, try not to overthink it. The proportions can be easily adapted according to your taste buds. In general, cinnamon tends to take centerstage and will make up most up of the blend. The other ingredients can be added in varying ratios, so don't be afraid to experiment.

To use chai masala in tea, "bring equal parts milk and water to a rapid boil," says Irani. Next, add one level teaspoon of black tea. Sharma recommends a high-quality variety, like Assam or Darjeeling. "Assam is a bit bolder in color and flavor, while Darjeeling is slightly mellow," he explains. Finally, mix in about ¼ teaspoon of chai masala mix per cup of tea; you're welcome to add a bit more if you want an extra-spicy drink. Simmer the ingredients until the liquid develops a medium brown color, says Irani, then serve with your sweetener of choice. In India, white sugar is the traditional option, but Irani enjoys using brown sugar (demerara) or honey as well. You can also use stevia or monk fruit, he notes, if you want a non-sugar sweetener.

By the way, making masala chai with fresh spices is just as easy and delicious. Instead of using a chai masala mix, "add a few pieces of whole spices like cardamom, cinnamon, black pepper, and fennel," says Irani. Simmer until medium brown, then strain and serve as usual. Need a bit of guidance? Try our recipes for Homemade Chai or Spiced Chai Latte, both of which call for fresh whole spices.

Other Ways to Use Chai Masala

If you love this flavor blend, you'll be delighted to know that chai masala can be used for more than just teas. "Chai masala, the spice mix, is an incredible aromatic addition to sweets [like] cookies, cakes, pies, caramel, chocolate, truffles, [and] pastries," says Irani. Sharma seconds this notion, sharing that chai masala blends work well in fall and winter sweets like gingersnap cookies and apple cakes. For a quicker option, try it in banana bread. And if you're craving those seasonal flavors but don't feel up to baking, make a batch of Chai-Spiced Apple Cider.

The richness of chai masala also pairs beautifully with chocolate, making it a welcomed addition to recipes like these chocolate chip cookies or a homemade chocolate bark. Another option is to make a masala chai syrup, which involves simmering water, sugar, tea, and chai masala blend until reduced. This syrup makes for a delicious add-in ingredient to "cocktails, smoothies, iced drinks, or non-dairy [milks] such as oat, almond, or coconut milk," says Irani.