What Is Garam Masala—and What's a Good Substitute?

Have you ever wondered what, exactly, makes garam masala so delicious and versatile? You’ve come to the right place. Here’s everything you need to know about the warming Indian spice blend:

What is Garam Masala?

ajaykampani/Getty Images
ajaykampani/Getty Images

Garam masala, an Indian spice blend, roughly translates to “warming spices.” This is because the mix of ingredients heats the body, boosting the metabolism.

Make no mistake: Garam masala is spicy, but not spicy. While it definitely packs a warm and flavorful punch, it won’t necessarily burn your mouth.

Related: 10 Spices You Need for Indian Cooking That Aren’t Curry Powder

Garam Masala Ingredients

Yagi Studio/Getty Images
Yagi Studio/Getty Images

Most garam masala blends include these ingredients:

What Does Garam Masala Taste Like?

Essentially, garam masala tastes like a complex blend of all the ingredients listed above. The fragrant, sweet, warm, and spicy blend is used to add a unique depth of flavor to all sorts of dishes.

Related: 13 Next-Level Spices and Seasonings Your Kitchen Needs

Garam Masala vs. Tandoori Masala

Photo: Caitlin Bensel, Styling: Blakeslee Giles, Audrey Davis
Photo: Caitlin Bensel, Styling: Blakeslee Giles, Audrey Davis

You’ll notice that both of these terms have one word in common.

“Masala” means “spice blend.” Garam and tandoori masalas are both flavorful, spicy mixes that are commonly used in Indian cuisines. However, they have different ingredients and are used in different ways:

  • Garam masala is typically used to season cooked food. More often than not, garam masala is added at the end of a recipe to enhance flavor.

  • Tandoori masala is usually used to marinate meats prior to cooking in a clay oven called a tandoor. Garam masala is frequently used as an ingredient in tandoori masala, along with garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, and other spices.

Garam Masala Substitute

Michelle Arnold / EyeEm/Getty Images
Michelle Arnold / EyeEm/Getty Images

No garam masala? No problem.

Of course, you could DIY your own blend using spices you have on hand (more on that in a minute). But, if you’re short on time or ingredients, here are some totally acceptable garam masala alternatives:

  • Cumin mixed with allspice: This two-part blend makes sense if you think about it. Allspice’s flavor is reminiscent of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and pepper—mixed with cumin, that’s a pretty darn good garam masala substitute. Just mix 1 part cumin with ¼ part allspice.

  • Curry powder: Did you know that curry powder is actually a British invention? It was created as a shortcut to flavorful Indian masala dishes. While it doesn’t have the same warming ingredients as garam masala, they both increase flavor depth in similar ways.

Where to Buy Garam Masala

Garam masala is probably available in the spice section of your local grocery store next to the other spices and seasonings. If you can’t find it there, try the international aisle.

Still can’t find it? You may have better luck at your nearest Indian market or health food store.

Of course, you can always order spices online. You should be careful, though, when ordering ingredients through the internet. Make sure that the company you’re using is reputable and that the product seems fresh and high quality. This garam masala blend from The Spice House, for instance, is well-reviewed by customers and comes with a wealth of information about the product—so you know exactly what you’re getting.

Buy it! The Spice House, $8.99

How to Make Garam Masala

ajaykampani/Getty Images
ajaykampani/Getty Images

If you can’t get to the store, or would prefer to make your own spice blend, follow our incredibly easy recipe to make garam masala in the comfort of your own home. Note: This recipe yields a good amount of spice (about 36 servings), but don’t worry about making too much—it keeps perfectly well in an airtight container for up to six months.

Get the recipe: Garam Masala

How to Use Garam Masala

Photo: Jen Causey; Prop Styling: Christina Daley; Food Styling: Julia Levy
Photo: Jen Causey; Prop Styling: Christina Daley; Food Styling: Julia Levy

Looking for quick, easy, and delicious ways to incorporate garam masala into your cooking? We’ve got you covered. Here are some of our favorite recipes that make good use of the fragrant blend: