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What Is the Difference Between Curry Powder & Garam Masala?

author image Ellen Douglas
Ellen Douglas has written on food, gardening, education and the arts since 1992. Douglas has worked as a staff reporter for the Lakeville Journal newspaper group. Previously, she served as a communication specialist in the nonprofit field. She received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Connecticut.
What Is the Difference Between Curry Powder & Garam Masala?
A curry chicken dish with rice. Photo Credit minadezhda/iStock/Getty Images

Red-hued garam masala and vivid yellow curry powder contribute more than color to food. They also carry a hint of India, as well as other Eastern ports of call. Use a garam masala blend to spice up creamy carrot or winter squash soups and sauces, or to shake over cooked vegetables and dried legumes, such as chickpeas and lentils. Curry powder can be used in Indian or other Asian curries, of course, as well as sprinkled over roasted root vegetables and stirred into yogurt sauces.

Grasping Garam Masala

Also known as Indian sweet spice or hot spice, garam masala is a reddish blend of spices crucial to northern Indian cooking. Garam masala combines spices that Western cooks tend to think of as belonging in separate categories, such as "sweet" nutmeg and cinnamon along with "savory" coriander and cumin. Because some of the ingredients turn bitter after prolonged cooking, garam masala is best added toward the end of preparation, or even after the food has come off the burner.

Grinding Garam Masala

A typical garam masala blend calls for 5 parts coriander, 4 parts cumin, 2 parts each black pepper and cardamon, and 1 part each cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. If possible, buy whole versions of some or all of the spices. Dry-toast whole spices, with the exception of nutmeg, in a skillet over medium-low heat until some of the spices start to darken, then let them cool. Grind them, with the nutmeg and any other powdered spice, in a spice or coffee bean grinder, and store in an airtight container.

Comprehending Curry Powder

Like garam masala, curry powder contains powdered, or ground, spice. Its hue tends toward the yellow-orange part of the color spectrum, owing largely to the turmeric in the blend. Other powdered spices commonly found in curry powder include chili, fenugreek, cardamon, cumin and coriander, as well as saffron and mace. Add curry powder during the early stages of cooking to prevent bitterness. It's especially effective when added to sauteed aromatics such as onions and garlic.

Creating Curry Powder

To create your own curry powder blend, start by dry-roasting 6 parts each dried chili pepper, fennel and coriander, plus 2 parts cumin. Cook them in a skillet over medium-low heat until some of the seeds start to pop, which takes about 3 minutes. Once the roasted mixture cools, the blend goes into a coffee bean grinder or spice mill along with 2 parts white pepper and mace and and 1 part turmeric. Grind to a powder, store in an airtight container, and ideally use within one week.

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