When I first started to seriously learn how to cook, I was attempting to make an Indian vegetable stew from a cookbook. One of the ingredients was garam masala. Huh? I had no clue what that was. The recipe did offer suggestions of what I could use instead but the next time I was at the grocery store, I picked up a bottle of garam masala. The smell was intoxicating and I’ve been cooking with it ever since. Garam masala is a mixture of different spices commonly used in Indian and South Asian cuisines. The word garam means “hot” and masala means “spice blend.” Garam masala is not spicy hot; the heat refers to the Ayurvedic sense of the word, meaning “to heat the body” with the warm spices. Garam masala is becoming more and more popular in cooking. If you haven’t tried this beautifully aromatic spice blend or you have reserved it for Indian recipes, let me tell you why garam masala is the Ayurvedic spice we should all be eating a lot more of.

What is Garam Masala?

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Garam masala is a blend of spices commonly used in Indian and South Asian cuisines. There is no single recipe for garam masala. Different regions use different blends and in Indian households, garam masala is considered a very personal recipe. Common spices used to make garam masala include coriander, cumin, cardamom, mustard seeds, bay leaves, fennel, fenugreek, caraway, black and white peppercorns, cloves, mace, nutmeg and cinnamon. Traditionally, the seeds and spices are toasted, ground and then mixed together but in a pinch, you can just mix ground spices together.

What are the Health Benefits?

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As mentioned above, the word garam means “hot” in the Ayurvedic sense. Ayurveda is the traditional Hindu system of medicine which is based on the tenet of balance in our bodily systems. Ayurvedic medicine uses yogic breathing, herbal treatment and diet to keep the body in balance. Garam masala is said to “heat the body”, meaning it raises body temperature. Many people say they feel warm inside after eating it. In fact, according to ancient Ayurvedic texts, garam masala was born because it provides the right balance of warmth and heat needed for optimal metabolism. Without it, our bodies become sluggish and accumulate toxins. Ayurveda also believes that garam masala contains all 6 tastes for a perfectly balanced dish. Other health benefits garam masala is believed to give us include boosting immunity, promoting weight loss, helping with digestive processes, alleviating pain and lowering blood sugar levels. To learn more about Ayurveda, see Basic Ayurveda Principles that Can Transform Your Life.

What Does It Taste Like?

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Garam masala is beautifully aromatic and it is delicious. As stated, garam masala is believed to have a balance of all six tastes. The cinnamon adds warmth and sweetness, peppercorns add heat, coriander and fennel add a spicy, floral aspect, cumin adds warmth and together, all the spices add depth and complexity to recipes both sweet and savory. Learn more about spices in The Ultimate Spice Guide for Vegan Cooking.

How Do I Make It?

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You can buy garam masala in stores or you can make your own. If you buy it, the blend will probably differ from brand to brand. As mentioned, everyone seems to have their own personal recipe for this spice blend. You can also make your own garam masala. The traditional way involves toasting the seeds and then grinding them. The shortcut way is to use already-ground spices and make a spice blend from them.

Here’s my simple shortcut recipe for Garam Masala: to make ½ cup of a simple garam masala, combine 2 Tbs. ground cumin, 1 Tbs. ground coriander, 1 Tbs. ground cardamom, 1 Tbs. black pepper, 2 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1 tsp. ground cloves and 1 tsp. ground nutmeg. Keep the blend in a sealed, air-tight container in a cool, dark place.

This recipe for Ayurvedic Garam Masala was created by Akshata Sheelvant who has also written an article, “9 Healing Wonders of Ayurvedic Garam Masala.” Also, try this Punjabi Garam Masala recipe for a fragrant, milder version of the spice blend.

What Do I Do With It?

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Of course, garam masala is used in Indian cuisine but you can use it anywhere you want warm, fragrant spices. Garam masala is wonderful in soups, sautés, stews, and curries. Spice up your ordinary slaw and turn it into an Indian Coleslaw or use it as a spice rub to make Grilled Eggplant Steaks. Add garam masala to marinades and salad dressings. I like to add it to the brown rice I serve on the side of any Indian dishes. The smell alone is incredible! Since garam masala had warming spices similar to baking spices, it is perfect for adding to pumpkin or butternut squash soup and desserts. After frying food like these Tofu Pakoras or Sweet Potatoes and Kale Patties, instead of sprinkling kosher salt on top, I like to sprinkle garam masala and it just melts right into the pakora.

Try using garam masala in starters such as this Lentil Apricot Tapenade with Curry Aioli, Sticky Peanut Cauliflower Wings, and Kale Parathas. Spice up your veggies like these Traditional Indian Pot Roasted Potatoes and this Cheesy Whole Roasted Cauliflower. Garam masala is right at home in Indian dishes like this Aloo Gobi, Punjabi Chana Masala, Vegan and Gluten-Free Palak Paneer, Almond Curry Lentils, and One Pot Spiralized Aloo Gobi. Start your day with this amazing Masala Oatmeal and add garam masala to atypical dishes like this Indian Vegetable Potato Pie and these Seriously Good Veggie Burgers.

Garam masala is becoming more and more popular in cooking. If you haven’t tried it yet, now is a great time to start. It’s healthy and delicious. Once you experience the exotic, warm fragrant spice, you’ll want to use it every single day.

Lead Image Photo: Almond Curry Lentils