Ready in under 10 minutes this EASY five-ingredient Garam Masala recipe with basic whole spices guarantees to boost the authentic flavors in your Indian cooking.
Note: Original post published in March 2016 has been updated with new photos and a video.
What is Garam Masala
Garam Masala literally translates to "warm spice mix", and it is the quintessential Indian spice blend. It gives warmth and depth to dishes and pairs perfectly with red or green chili for a hearty, aromatic flavor.
Every region (and family) across India has its own version of homemade garam masala. My mom's authentic garam masala calls for twenty whole roasted spices, some of which can be hard to find. I still remember her yearly ritual of making the garam masala, which involved shopping for the best whole spices, cleaning and roasting them, grinding them, and then carefully storing them in beautiful glass jars.
Over the past several years, during mom's visits to the US, she taught me how to create a simplified version with a similar authentic flavor using just five whole spices. This is the garam masala I use in most of the recipes that I share on the blog, so you can recreate the exact same flavors of Indian dishes at home.
Why make Garam Masala at home?
Flavors of homemade masala powder have no comparison to store-bought spice blends in terms of taste, quality, or freshness. Just 1 teaspoon of freshly made garam masala will elevate the taste of your dishes to a different level making it easy to make your restaurant favorite dishes at home. Best of all it takes 10 minutes and 5 basic whole spices from your pantry to make it at home.
Five Spices to make Homemade Garam masala
- Black Peppercorns | Kali Mirch - These berries which grow on climbing vines are native to southern India. The unripe green berries are harvested when they ripen and turn red and are then dried to what we commonly see in the grocery stores. Black peppercorns, impart intense aroma, depth, and heat to foods.
- Green Cardamom Pods | Elaichi - A sweet and aromatic spice that is a critical spice for curries and pulao. I like roasting and grinding whole green pods for additional flavor and also saves time from having to take the seeds out.
- Cinnamon | Dalchini - Cassia Bark that is grown in India is the traditional cinnamon used in Indian cooking and is similar to cinnamon sticks. It adds earthy flavors to meat and curries and is essential in making spice blends. Many times I use the easier-to-find cinnamon sticks in recipes, but if you do purchase cassia bark, it can be substituted.
- Cloves | Laung - These aromatic flower buds are harvested from the evergreen clove tree. They lend a slightly sweet yet pungent aroma to Indian cuisine.
- Black Cumin Seeds | Shah Jeera - With anise-like flavors, black cumin seeds are milder than regular cumin seeds. Often confused with nigella seeds or caraway seeds, shah jeera has a smoky, earthy taste. In lieu of shah jeera, regular cumin seeds can be substituted.
To learn about other Indian spices, read this Guide to Essential Indian Spices which includes all the spices I like to stock up on.
- Roast the spices individually on medium heat, stirring them frequently until they start to release aromas. Roasting spices removes any moisture in them, making them crisp and easy to grind into fine powder.
- Roast and grind the whole green cardamom pods. In addition to the seeds, the outer skin also adds flavors and aroma to the masala
- Cinnamon - For the full flavor, avoid pre-ground cinnamon powder and use whole cinnamon sticks instead. Tip - Gently hammer the whole cinnamon stick with a pestle and break it into smaller pieces. This step will make it easier to roast and grind the cinnamon.
- Shah Jeera - Also known as black cumin seeds, these are available in most Indian grocery stores. You can substitute regular cumin seeds if you do not have shahi jeera on hand.
- Allow the spices to completely cool down before grinding them.
Best way to grind the spices
- Secura electric coffee and spice grinder comes with stainless steel blades and bowls is a great buy for under $50. The stainless steel grinder bowls can be washed thoroughly to remove the spice aromas.
- I also have an Indian brand mixer grinder that comes with a small chutney jar. It has low blades that help to grind smaller amounts of spices to a fine powder.
- Use mortar and pestle. It will take a longer time to ground the spices evenly but is a good old way that works.
- Some of my readers have also used a magic bullet to grind spices. I do not own one but you may want to give it a try.
Favorite recipes using homemade garam masala
- Healthy Butter Chicken - Also known as Punjabi murgh makhani this popular Indian dish has tender chicken cooked in a creamy sauce with the heavenly aroma of the garam masala.
- Tandoori Chicken - Using a modern cooking method to the traditional Tandoori Chicken, this recipe uses Airfryer for a quick and easy dinner.
- Chicken Biryani - A one-pot meal made with fragrant basmati rice, tender spiced chicken, and caramelized onions, and cooked in less than an hour using the Instant Pot
- Aloo Gobhi - A go-to weeknight staple, this cauliflower curry is cooked with potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and warm earthy spices
- Palak Paneer - A classic vegetarian dish from north India, made with fresh spinach and cottage cheese, seasoned with fresh ginger, garlic, and garam masala
- Daal Makhani - A creamy lentil dish cooked with whole black lentils and kidney beans, lightly spiced to enjoy as a chili or over rice
More homemade spice blend recipes:
Check out The Essential Indian Instant Pot Cookbook for some of my other homemade spice blends such as Malabar Spice Blend, Vindaloo Spice Blend, Sambar Powder, and Rasam Powder.
Frequently Asked Questions
Aromatic spice blend that brings warmth and depth to Indian cuisine.
Although the spices can vary, my favorite spices for this EASY recipe are: Black peppercorns, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves, and Cumin
Roasting spices allows the release of aromas and removes any excess moisture in them. This also helps grind the spices in fine powder.
A coffee grinder works best for grinding garam masala. I would highly recommend having a separate cup just for the spices.
Curry Powder and Garam Masala are not the same. There is no such thing as Curry Powder in India. Curry in India simply means a dish with sauce and since each sauce can use a variety of spices, there is no curry powder used in Indian cooking. Although Japanese curry powder is commonly sold in grocery stores, it does not make a good substitute for Garam Masala.
You can find Garam Masala in the international aisle of most grocery stores and is also readily available in Indian grocery stores. Although the freshness and flavors are not guaranteed. Making homemade garam masala with a few whole spices will not only have authentic flavors but is also fairly inexpensive.
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Homemade 5-Ingredient Garam Masala
- Lightly roast each spice in a small pan until they get hot, about a minute. Stir frequently. Make sure not to burn them by roasting them too long. The goal is to make them a bit toasty so they are easy to grind.
- Cool spices and then grind fine in a coffee or spice grinder. Store in an airtight container away from direct sunlight.
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