Curry powder vs garam masala – what’s the difference?

IndiaCurry powder vs garam masala – what’s the difference?

Hey there! If you’ve been following my blog, you probably already know that I’ve been exploring Indian cuisine lately. I recently shared a recipe for a popular Indian spice blend called garam masala. However, during my research, I discovered that many people are confused about the difference between garam masala and another popular spice blend, curry powder. The confusion is quite understandable since both of these blends are complex and add tons of flavor to many dishes. So, I decided to put an end to the confusion and answer the question…

What is the difference between curry powder and garam masala?

The main difference between curry powder and garam masala is the spices that are typically used. There is some overlap, but curry powder is generally a blend of aromatic, earthy, and sometimes hot spices such as turmeric, cumin, coriander, and fenugreek, while garam masala is a blend of warm, sometimes slightly sweet spices such as cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, coriander, cumin, and cinnamon. Curry powder is typically used as a key ingredient in dishes, while garam masala is usually used as a finishing touch to add depth and complexity to a dish.

Whether you’re looking to add some heat to your next curry dish or want to experiment with new flavors, curry powder and garam masala are both great options to have on hand in your spice cabinet. Read on to learn more about the origins, flavor profiles, and uses of both curry powder and garam masala.

All about Curry Powder

Curry powder

Curry powder history

Did you know curry powder is not traditionally used in Indian cooking? According to Savory Spice Shop (my favorite place to buy good quality herbs and spices), “Indian home cooking often involves many spices, but they are added individually…Curry powder, as we know it, was created for British colonizers who enjoyed the flavorful spiced meals they had in India.” (See the full article, Behind the Seasoning: Curry Powder – What is it? Uses & Recipes) The British, in an attempt to simplify the complex spice combinations they encountered, created a blend that could be easily replicated and used in various dishes.

Curry powder ingredients and flavor profile

Curry powder is a versatile spice blend that typically includes a combination of turmeric, coriander, cumin, and other aromatic spices. Turmeric gives curry powder its vibrant yellow color and slightly bitter undertone, while coriander adds citrusy, floral notes. Cumin brings a warm, earthy flavor, and other spices such as fenugreek add a hint of sweetness. Together, these ingredients create a well-balanced spice blend that can elevate a wide range of dishes, including curries, stews, and marinades.

Curry powder uses

Curry powder is a key ingredient in many Indian-inspired and Southeast Asian curries, where it adds depth and richness to the sauce. It can also be used to season rice and roasted vegetables, or even be sprinkled over popcorn for a unique twist. It can be used as a rub for meats or as a seasoning for soups and stews. Its ability to add complexity and a hint of spice makes it a valuable addition to any pantry.

Would you like to learn more about curry powder? Hop over to my post, What Is Curry Powder – Quick Guide + Recipe Suggestions to learn more!

Taste of the Place recipes featuring curry powder

South African Bobotie

Bobotie – A Classic South African Casserole

This classic dish from South Africa, Bobotie, is made with ground beef seasoned to perfection, and a creamy, decadent topping. It is rich, savory, spicy, aromatic, and zingy. A comforting meal, full of the flavors of Africa!

Kenyan Beef Curry

Kenyan Beef Curry

Loaded with ginger, garlic, red onions, and succulent beef, this Beef Curry from Kenya is full of flavor and savory goodness.

Pineapple Mango Chutney

Mango & Pineapple Chutney

Mango pineapple chutney from Curaçao – so easy to make and loaded with flavor – sweet, tangy, and spicy all in one.

All about Garam Masala

Homemade garam masala spice blend in a jar

Garam masala history

Unlike curry powder, garam masala has a long and rich history in Indian cuisine. It is a staple in many Indian households and is believed to have originated in Northern India, where it was used to add warmth and depth to dishes. While the term “garam masala” translates to “hot spice blend” or “hot mixture” in Hindi, it is not typically firey hot, but rather a blend of warming spices.

Garam masala flavor profile

Garam masala is made by toasting and grinding a combination of spices such as cloves, cardamom, peppercorns, coriander, cumin, and cinnamon. It has a complex flavor profile, with sweet notes from the cardamom and cinnamon, and an earthy and spicy undertone from the cloves, peppercorns, and cumin, accented by floral top notes from the coriander.

Garam masala uses

Garam masala is typically used as a finishing spice, added towards the end of cooking to preserve its delicate flavors. It is often sprinkled over dishes just before serving to enhance the flavors and add a touch of warmth. Garam masala can be used to season meat, poultry, or vegetables, and it pairs particularly well with creamy dishes such as butter chicken or tikka masala. Add it to desserts for a surprising touch of warmth and complexity. The subtle heat and aromatic flavors of garam masala can elevate even the simplest of dishes, making it a must-have in any Indian kitchen.

Would you like to learn more about garam masala and make a batch at home for yourself? Check out this post – What is garam masala – how to make it, substitutes & more.

Can curry powder be used as a substitute for garam masala? Or garam masala for curry powder?

Yes – curry powder and garam masala can be used as substitutes for each other, but carefully. The flavors will be similar but different. So if you are in a pinch and a recipe calls for one but you only have the other, go ahead and swap ’em out. However, do be cautious and begin with a small amount, just in case the flavor profile really doesn’t work with your particular dish. You can always add more later!

Curry powder and garam masala – two spice blends worth trying!

Curry powder and garam masala both bring their unique characteristics to the table. Curry powder is an aromatic, earthy, and versatile blend that can elevate a wide range of dishes, while garam masala adds warmth and complexity. Understanding the origins, flavor profiles, and cooking applications of these two spice blends can help you make informed decisions when it comes to creating delicious meals.

So, whether you’re in the mood for a spicy curry or a comforting bowl of soup, both curry powder and garam masala are sure to bring your dishes to life. Don’t be afraid to get creative and explore the endless possibilities these spice blends offer. Happy cooking!

Other Resources

  • I’ve been on a journey to learn more about Indian food recently by enrolling in an online cooking class through BBC Maestro. The course not only covers how to make and use garam masala but includes highly instructive videos on a whole range of Indian recipes from onion bhaji to mango lassi. If you are interested in learning more yourself, hop over to the BBC Maestro Modern Indian Cooking course and check it out! Thanks to BBC Maestro for providing me with a free online cooking class to help me learn more about their courses! Although I received a free product, all opinions are my own.
  • Would you like to learn more about common Indian spices? Check out my article, Guide To The 15 Most Common Indian Spices.


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Julie Cockburn with the Taste Of The Place cookbook

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