Warming Garam Masala – Your Top-Note

Indian cooks tend to use use individual spices in dishes then add spice-blends  to create extra layers of flavour.  Garam masala and Panch Phoran are often used this way. Sometimes it’s the other  way around: the masala forms the basic structure, other spices being added for individuality and regional variation. Sambhar powder, used to make a south Indian dish of the same name is used this way.

There are many masala mixes. I want to say, however, that there is a “Gujarati masala” knocking around supermarkets of late. My Gujarati contacts assure me it doesn’t exist in India, and I’d certainly never heard of it. A bit of cultural misappropriation? let’s call it English masala and be done with it

Here are three masalas which are of Indian origin:

  1. garam masala (lit. warming spice-blend),
  2. sambhar masala (lit. spices for sambhar), and
  3. panch phora (lit. five-spice)


Warming garam masala originated in northern India where the winters are cold, but the masala is used all over India as well as Pakistan and as far afield as Persia

This blend uses some of the most expensive available spices. Indian cooks use small amounts of garam masala, whole or ground, at different stages of cooking, depending on the dish. It’s often added at the end of cooking to add a perfumed top-note to dishes where the fresh aroma of the spices would be lost once cooked into the dish.

If you don’t want the faff, and prefer to go for shop-bought I strongly recommend the whole-spice mix. Put the spices in a jar and give them a good shake. Then, when you want to use the masala take out a handful of spices randomly to dry-roast and grind. You’ll get novel results every time.


grpound spices

Garam Masala

Whole spices are mixed, dry roasted on a skillet to be added to dishes whole or ground. Add it at the end of cooking for a fresh, heady top-note
5 from 1 vote
2 mins


  • 1 tbs black peppercorns
  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbs fennel seeds
  • 4 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 20-25 green cardammons
  • 10 black cardamons
  • 6 sticks cassia bark (Indian cinnamon)
  • 20 cloves
  • 10 bay leafs
  • 6 blades mace


  • Break up the larger spices such as the cinammon, bay-leaf and mace. Put all of the spices in a sealed container and shake vigorously
  • When you want to use it measure out the desired amount, making sure you include at leat one piece of the larger spices. Release the cardammon seeds from their pods and discard the latter
  • Roast the whole spices on a dry skillet or pan over medium heat until they release their aroma without changing colour
  • Add the whole spices to your dish according to the recipe.
  • Or allow to cool for a few seconds then grind in a stone mortar-and-pestle or electtric grinder to obtain a fine powder


Check out our recipes using garam masala

Check the following posts for sambhar powder and panch phora

One Reply to “Warming Garam Masala – Your Top-Note”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recipe Rating