Garam masala is a popular combination of spices used in a range of recipes most commonly used in Indian dishes, as well as Bangladeshi, Nepalese, and Pakistani cuisines.
Each garam masala will vary slightly depending on regional differences, wherein some regions will substitute one spice for another to achieve a slightly different flavor.
When added to a meal, garam masala adds a hearty level of flavor and warm spice to emphasize the other flavors in the dish.
However, not everyone has garam masala readily available in their cupboard nor do they have all the spices required to make the combination of garam masala.
Sure, you can chuck a load of spices in and hope for the best, but ideally, you’d want to mimic the flavor of garam masala as well as possible.
If you’re halfway through a recipe and you’ve been hit with a sense of overwhelming dread at your lack of garam masala, fear not – here are the best garam masala substitutes, reviewed and ranked!
1. Curry Powder
The simplest – and possibly the most accessible – substitute for garam masala is curry powder. Curry powder is a blend of spices that make up for that classic comforting and warming curry flavor, which is most prominent in mild curries like korma and tikka masala.
In fact, curry powder doesn’t taste too dissimilar to garam masala – except for one key difference. Curry powder contains turmeric, which is why it is slightly muskier and aromatic than garam masala.
Curry powder also contains cumin, ginger, cardamom, and coriander among other spices.
Due to the key ingredient difference being turmeric, it’s best to add the curry powder to your own taste preference rather than substitute it completely for the recipe’s garam masala instructions.
Also, be prepared for the dish to look more yellow than if you were to use garam masala. This is purely down to the turmeric powder!
2. Chicken Tikka Powder Or Sauce
While it’s not ideal to use a pre-made sauce when attempting to make a curry from scratch, if you’re struggling to find a substitute for garam masala, you can always use a jar of chicken tikka masala sauce.
These jars are cheap and easy to find in any grocery store, and work to create a curry sauce with minimal effort on your behalf.
A jar of chicken tikka masala sauce generally consists of cream, tomato, and a range of Indian spices (including garam masala) to replicate a homemade chicken tikka masala.
This means that you can technically use a tablespoon or two of tikka masala sauce in replacement for garam masala!
If you don’t want to use the ready made sauce, you can always opt for tikka masala powder instead. Sure, it’s still a pre-made mix of spices, but considering this mix contains most of the spices found in garam masala, it works well as a good substitute.
3. All Spice And Cumin Seeds
If you’re not interested in using multiple spices simply to make a garam masala mix (it can be expensive to buy all those spices if you’re not going to use them all, after all), then you’ll like this substitute.
The combination of allspice and cumin works brilliantly to mimic the flavor and spice of garam masala without the need to use a variety of spices.
Cumin is one of the key spices in garam masala, particularly cumin seeds which keep their flavor longer than ground cumin.
Cumin seeds provide a nice aroma with a nutty yet sweet flavor, which is then balanced out by allspice. Allspice is often likened to nutmeg or cinnamon alongside some other spices in garam masala.
We recommend combining one part cumin to ¼ allspice to replicate the flavor of garam masala. Plus, if you make more than one serving of this substitute, it’ll save you from having to go to the store to buy an actual jar of garam masala!
4. Sambhar Masala
If you’re something of a curry-making aficionado who isn’t looking for a simple substitute for garam masala, it might be worth trying your hand at making sambhar masala.
Sambhar masala, like garam masala, is a combination of spices that is typically found in South Indian dishes (whereas garam masala is typically found in North Indian dishes).
To make sambhar masala you will have to make a combination of cumin, cinnamon, dry coconut, mustard seed, dried red chilies, and a variety of other spices.
The beauty of making something like sambhar masala is that you can add or remove certain ingredients depending on your personal preference.
Some people will often take out dried coconut in replacement for something else, as this can alter the taste of a dish that is meant to include garam masala.
As a result of this, it is recommended only using small quantities of sambhar masala as a substitute for garam masala.
5. Chaat Masala
If you live in a South Asian household, you’ve almost definitely got chaat masala in your pantry or kitchen cupboard.
Not only is it used in a variety of dishes, but chaat masala is regularly sprinkled over snacks to create a tangy topping. These snacks include fruit salads consisting of papaya, banana, and apples.
However, the combination of spices that make up chaat masala is slightly different from garam masala’s spice combination.
Chaat masala typically consists of dried ginger, salt, coriander, cumin, dried mango powder, chili powder, and black pepper, making for a tangy yet spicy aromatic flavor.
As the spices in chaat masala are quite different compared to garam masala, you’ll have to use it sparingly when substituting garam masala in a recipe.
This is also because the spices in chaat masala will respond differently depending on the ingredients in the dish, so it’s mostly a matter of trial and error.
6. Cinnamon, Cumin, And Cloves
Almost every kitchen across the globe has cinnamon, cumin, and cloves somewhere in their pantry. If you don’t have these three spices, you can easily find them in a grocery store due to their availability, making them a true staple in the kitchen.
Cinnamon and cumin work brilliantly together due to their warm tones, with cinnamon being slighter spicier and cumin adding a hint of earthiness.
When combined with cloves, providing a bitter tone, the three spices balance each other out to make a hearty, spicy, earthy, yet sweet concoction that is fairly similar to garam masala.
In fact, garam masala generally contains cinnamon, cumin, and cloves, so it only makes sense to combine these three to make an easy garam masala substitute!
The ideal combination of cinnamon, cumin, and cloves is 1:2:1.
7. Cardamom, Cumin Seeds, And Coriander
Similar to the substitute above, the combination of cardamom, cumin seeds, and coriander makes a decent substitute for garam masala.
In fact, used alone, these spices can be used to substitute for garam masala – but for the best results, we recommend combining them.
Cumin seeds are undoubtedly packed with more flavor than ground cumin, but either works fine. Cumin seeds are slightly nutty, spicy, and packed with warm and earthy tones.
Cardamom shares a similar flavor to nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger, making for an autumnal taste. Coriander is fairly fruity thanks to the linalool and pinene terpenes, creating an overall flavor that is nutty, spicy, and quite aromatic.
It is best to blend these ingredients together to get the most out of their flavorings and to mimic the texture of garam masala. We recommend blending ½ a teaspoon of cardamom pods with a teaspoon of cumin seeds and 2 teaspoons of coriander seeds.
8. Coconut, Curry Leaves, And Mustard Seeds
While not everyone will readily have access to shredded coconut, curry leaves, and mustard seeds, this substitute for garam masala is certainly one to experiment with if you’re passionate about cooking and flavors.
The reason this combination works is due to the balance of flavors. Mustard seeds are zingy and spicy to mimic the dried red chilies in garam masala, while the curry leaves provide a wholesome, robust, and rich flavor that makes the dish heartier than ever.
The inclusion of shredded coconut helps to dull the spicy and hearty tones to prevent them from being too overwhelming.
The best way to combine these ingredients is to put a teaspoon of mustard seeds, a teaspoon of shredded coconut, and 12 curry leaves into a pan on a low heat.
It will eventually turn into something like a powder, which can be used as a substitute for garam masala. Just make sure to taste as you go, otherwise the powder might taste too much like coconut.
9. Throw In A random Mix Of Spices
If you’re not too fussed about making mistakes, or perhaps you’re interested in what combinations of spices make what flavors, a good substitute for garam masala is to combine a bunch of spices together and hope for the best. Garam masala is a mix of many spices, after all!
While this is quite a risky move, it might work in your favor because it allows you the freedom to control how much of everything you use.
You can combine whatever spices you like, but in the spirit of creating a substitute for garam masala, we recommend using a mixture of mustard seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin seeds or ground cumin, fennel seeds, cloves, nutmeg, bay leaves, and black peppercorns.
You might need to do a bit of blending and altering until you have created the best replication of garam masala!
Frequently Asked Questions
Is Garam Masala The Same As 5 Spice?
While 5 spice is the Chinese equivalent of garam masala, they are not the same. Both garam masala and 5 spice are made up of multiple spices to make a distinctive flavoring.
Garam masala typically consists of cumin, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, black pepper, and cloves. 5 spice, on the other hand, is made up of star anise, cinnamon, Sichuan peppercorns, cloves, and fennel.
Can I Substitute Cumin For Garam Masala?
As cumin is an essential spice that makes up garam masala, you can technically use it as a stand-alone spice to substitute for garam masala.
However, without the inclusion of other spices such as nutmeg, cloves, or coriander, cumin alone cannot replicate the complex flavors of garam masala. Instead, use a mixture of cumin with coriander and cardamom as a substitute.
What Is The Difference Between Tikka Masala And Garam Masala?
Garam masala is a seasoning typically used in Indian and other Asian cuisines, as it made up of a variety of spices in a way to compliment other ingredients in a recipe. Tikka masala, however, is a curry dish that often uses garam masala in its ingredients alongside a tomato sauce base.