Best Substitutes for Garam Masala

Garam masala

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When you eat a delicious curry and ask yourself which ingredient is responsible for its complex flavor, the answer very likely is garam masala. This Indian spice blend—whose name means “mixture of hot spices”—is made up of multiple components.

A typical garam masala blend can include cardamom, coriander, fennel seeds, peppercorns, cloves, cumin, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, and more. This multiplicity of ingredients helps create all sorts of earthy, intriguing dishes.

Depending on your location, though, you may find garam masala hard to come by. Not every supermarket carries it, and it can be expensive. Meanwhile, if you don’t make Indian or South Asian recipes very often, you may not want to purchase an entire jar or bag.

It’s also possible, though unlikely, to have an adverse reaction to any of garam masala’s ingredients, which may lead you to seek an alternative. If you are wondering how to recreate garam masala’s unique flavor with other common ingredients, here's how to make an alternative.

Garam Masala Uses

This delicious blend is used in numerous dishes in Indian, Nepalese, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi cuisine. Curries, lentils, stews, and vegetable dishes can all get an infusion of warmth and flavor from a sprinkle or more of garam masala. There really are no limits to its creative uses.

Try it dusted on roasted cauliflower, shaken generously into chicken tikka masala, or even included as a unique twist in Indian-inspired tacos. To maintain its pleasant aroma, many recipes recommend adding garam masala toward the end of cooking.

Garam Masala Nutrition

Like most spices, garam masala is not a significant source of nutrients. The following nutrition information, for 1 teaspoon (0.5 grams) of garam masala, is provided by the USDA.

  • Calories: 0
  • Fat: 0 g
  • Sodium: 15 mg
  • Carbohydrates: 0 g
  • Fiber: 0 g
  • Sugars: 0 g
  • Protein: 0 g

What to Look for in a Substitute

When choosing a garam masala alternative, you will want to select a substitute that emulates this spice blend’s signature taste. But the specifics can vary. If the dish you are cooking has hints of sweetness, you might enhance them with a spice blend that includes cinnamon or nutmeg. Or, to bring out more savory, meaty flavors, create a DIY spice blend that includes cumin, allspice, and curry powder.

It is important to remember that if you choose to use any fresh spices as a substitute, be sure to use them in a three-to-one ratio to dried garam masala. Dried spices are generally considered to have three times the potency of fresh ones.

Depending on your recipe, the color of a substitute may also be worth considering. In general, garam masala is a light golden brown. If you would like to maintain this hue, opt for a blend that includes lighter-colored spices like curry powder or cumin.

Garam Masala Substitutes

Perhaps you are halfway through sautéing tofu for an Indian dinner when you realize you are all out of garam masala. Or maybe you would rather not spring for its high cost.

Whatever your reason for seeking an alternative, the good news is that, because garam masala is a blend of other spices, it is relatively easy to replicate on your own. Try these three options as substitutes.

Curry Powder

Garam masala is frequently the flavor base of curries—so it is not surprising that curry powder can be a useful stand-in. Naturally, since curry is a single spice, not a blend, it won’t provide the same complexity of flavors like garam masala, but you will still find it adds warmth and depth to recipes galore. You can use it as a one-to-one substitute, tasting as you go.

With its louder, more pungent profile, curry powder is an especially good choice for savory foods. Try it in beef or chicken dishes or as a flavor booster with veggies like potatoes, zucchini, or carrots. Also, unlike garam masala, it's usually best to add curry powder early in the cooking process.

Curry powder’s nutrition is not perfectly comparable with garam masala’s, as it contains 6.5 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrate, and trace amounts of protein and fat per teaspoon. That said, in regular portions, substituting curry powder will not make a significant difference to the nutrition of a dish. The same is true for appearance. Most curry powders mimic the light brown color of garam masala fairly closely.

Cumin, Coriander, and Cardamom

When in doubt, you can always try creating your own spice blend to replicate the flavor of garam masala. A common combo is cumin, coriander, and cardamom. For each tablespoon of garam masala, try 1 teaspoon cumin, 2 teaspoons coriander, and a 1/2 teaspoon cardamom.

Garam masala spices are usually toasted before they get blended, so you may not get exactly the same smoky flavor from this combination, but in a pinch, it should do just fine. And if you feel this mixture is missing any taste you usually expect from garam masala—like cinnamon, cloves, or fennel—simply add a sprinkle of any additional spice you like.

Cumin, coriander, and cardamom all provide minimal nutrients, so there is no need to worry that this substitution will substantially change the nutrition of any dish. And though this blend may have a slightly deeper brown color than garam masala, it should not be especially noticeable in finished foods.

Allspice and Cumin

For another blend that features spices, you are likely to have on hand, try whisking up a mixture of ground allspice and cumin. A good rule of thumb is to use four parts cumin to one part allspice. The slight fruitiness of allspice plus the earthier, warmer tone of cumin create a flavor contrast that works equally well in sweet or savory dishes. Like the alternatives listed above, an allspice-cumin pairing will not significantly change the nutrition or appearance of your curries, lentils, or veggies.

A Word From Verywell

Garam masala is a delightful addition to South Asian recipes and can even put a novel spin on foods from other parts of the world. But if you cannot track it down or prefer not to use it for any other reason, a bit of mixology with your existing pantry spices should create comparable flavor.

2 Sources
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  1. USDA, FoodData Central. Garam masala blend.

  2. USDA, FoodData Central. Spices, curry powder.

By Sarah Garone, NDTR
Sarah Garone, NDTR, is a freelance health and wellness writer who runs a food blog.