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Garam Masala and Curry Powder Questions

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8 replies to this topic

#1 Shel_B

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Posted 25 August 2013 - 08:26 AM

This has been on my mind for quite some time:  What's the difference between garam masala and curry powder?  They seem to have many of the same ingredients.


Can they be used interchangeably, or do they each have specific uses?  Sometimes I see recipes that call for both garam masala and curry powder.


Since garam masala and curry powder sometimes have the same ingredients, and because there are so many recipes for each, how does one choose the appropriate blends for a particular dish if it calls for using both?  It seems that, with the same ingredients in some blends, an excess, or too little, of a particular spice is possible.  Are there some curry blends that go better with some garam masala blends?



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#2 liuzhou

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Posted 25 August 2013 - 09:03 AM

"Real" Indian food almost never uses "curry powder". The concept is all but unknown in India. It is a British invention. Indian cooks, at home or in restaurants would use individual spices, cooked along with the main ingredients - that's why no "curry" ever tastes the same twice.
Garam masala is known, as are many other spice mixes. They tend to be last minute garnishes / additions. Much as you might put parmesan on a pasta dish (bad analogy, but best I could come up with at this time of night.)

Edited by liuzhou, 25 August 2013 - 09:10 AM.

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#3 andiesenji

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Posted 25 August 2013 - 12:37 PM

Commercial curry "powder" often has fillers added to lessen the cost (to the manufacturer).


The spice blends that specify ingredients usually do not include fillers.


However to be absolutely sure, it is best to buy the individual spices (whole if possible and grind as needed) and mix your own because once ground the spices do not retain potency for more than a few months, at most.  There are numerous sites with excellent advice on various blends preferred in the different regions of India.


If you want something easy to use and more authentic, get the curry pastes - Patak's is an excellent brand

I use them and I am very picky.  I currently have several on hand. 

I "balance" the spiciness of the hotter ones with the milder. 

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#4 patrickamory

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Posted 25 August 2013 - 02:03 PM

re: "curry powder": Most real Indian recipes call for the addition of different spices, whole, crushed, ground, roasted or not, at different points in the recipe. Some might be fried whole at the start to flavor the oil. Others might be ground and sautéed lightly. Still others are only added after the addition of liquid and are in effect boiled or braised. And as discussed in another thread, there may be a final garnish with a number of spices quickly fried in oil separately and added to the finished dish - this is called a tadka, tarka, chaunk or various other names.


re: garam masala: This is a medley of spices mainly used in Delhi and Bengal and other northern areas of India and Pakistan and neighboring countries, generally containing cinnamon, bay leaf, cardamom, cumin, coriander seed, peppercorns, cloves and other spices. There are an infinite number of recipes for garam masala - traditionally each family had its own - and there are regional variations as well. Sometimes the spices are roasted; sometimes they are not. They are always ground, and are generally added in small amounts as an aromatic garnish toward the end of the cooking or just before serving.

#5 Syzygies

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Posted 25 August 2013 - 08:14 PM

In Madhur Jaffrey's "Invitation to Indian Cooking", she imagines on p6 a British officer in full uniform, about to leave India for the voyage home, tearfully asking his cook "Why don't you mix me a box of those wonderful spices that you have been using..."


[hastily throwing spices into box]


"Here is the box, sa'ab, if you friend also like, for a sum of two rupees each, I can make more boxes for them as well..."


Of course, I can see both sides to this. As a freshman in college, I only made pumpkin bread, as a late night snack. Various women on my dorm hall were aghast to see my tin of "pumpkin pie spice", and patiently explained to me how I could in fact buy the individual spices.


"Are you kidding?! Do you know how much those tins would cost? Do you know how much pot that would buy?!"


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#6 ThayerG

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Posted 25 August 2013 - 08:32 PM

If you buy garam masala and curry powder and smell each you will understand better how they differ.

Curry powder is useful for devilled eggs. It is ironically mostly useless for any attempts at Indian food.

Patak's pastes are better but they also amp up the flavors with salt and sugar.

Fresh spices and herbs are your friends. There are no shortcuts. But with a dozen spices, some chili, and a paste of garlic and ginger you are in business.

#7 jonwig100

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Posted 26 August 2013 - 01:25 AM

To agree with ThayerG:


Curry powder is useful for devilled eggs. It is ironically mostly useless for any attempts at Indian food.


OK for Kedgeree, too - but that's not Indian, of course. (British Raj maybe!)


And I'd endorse others who have suggested using individual spices. You can use lots, or just a few. Whatever else, I'd suggest fresh root ginger, garlic and toasted crushed cumin as the base. The ginger in particular gives a depth of flavour.


Here in the UK I find it hard to get hold of another essential: curry leaves (Murraya koenigii) unless dried. Living in an area with a big Asian community, that's unfortunate.

#8 jsager01

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Posted 26 August 2013 - 09:50 AM

Here in the UK I find it hard to get hold of another essential: curry leaves (Murraya koenigii) unless dried. Living in an area with a big Asian community, that's unfortunate.


it may be difficult to get fresh curry leaves in the winter, but i will be most surprised if you cannot buy it at this time of year. Try south indian/Sri Lankan  grocery stores. Google and you may find some fresh leaves and plants for sale, sometimes at quite a steep price. The dried leaves are a waste of time.


If you do decide to grow your own, its easiest to buy a growing plant (or two), instead of growing from seeds. I have successfully grown from cuttings, ie buy fresh leaves still attached to stem or branch, trim off excess leaves,  put into a glass of water for a few days and then stick them into a pot with rooting hormone. There are lots of gardening websites that will go into details of grow your own. While you are at it, you may also want to grow your own turmeric, especially if you want the fresh leaves (eg for malaysian style rendang). Otherwise buying fresh turmeric and burying them in a pot of moist soil, it will keep them fresh for a much longer time than sticking it in the fridge, and better than freezing.

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#9 loki

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Posted 09 September 2013 - 01:00 PM

I agree with the others - Curry powder is not Indian, it's made by others to add Indian flavors.  It's actually popular in many other countries besides those with British roots, so I actually wonder if it was not spread by others as well - like the French, Portuguese, etc.  There are lots of recipes for Garam Masala and it's quite easy to make in a spice/coffee grinder.  If you have access to bulk spices - buy whole ones, and make it yourself.  If you make much Indian food the individual spices will be needed quite a bit as well.  


If you really want to make a curry powder, use a recipe for garam masala, add some turmeric powder, and perhaps a bit of salt (some have it, some don't).


Curry leaves are really difficult to get here too.  I have found them in some Asian markets miles away, and found they freeze very well. Dried ones taste like nothing (at least the ones I've tried). Being in the citrus family, I've also used lime or lemon, or even Yuzu leaves (This one was closest, but is probably even harder to find that a Curry Leaf plant!).   These are actually stronger than curry leaves, are not exactly the same, but do add a nice flavor.  I grow the other citrus in pots.  I've not had success growing a curry leaf plant - but may try again with a larger plant to start with...