Spice Profile: Magic Masala

Printer-friendly version

Let’s talk masala this week. I call them magic because, let’s face it, they are kind of magic, and can transform dishes from ordinary to divine with simply a sprinkling of their magic. In case you are wondering, masala is simply a generic term for a mixture of spices (‘masala’ literally translates to ‘mixture’). This spice mixture can be either wet or dry, and can go into both sweet and savory dishes. There are many, many different masalas, but for now I will simply write of the most commonly used dry masalas.

Garam Masala is widely used in Indian cooking, and is usually put into savory dishes. A typical garam masala is made up of mace, cinnamon, cloves, green cardamom, black cardamom, bay leaves, cumin seeds, black peppercorns and nutmeg. The amounts of these spices vary by recipe, and some garam masalas also add dried red chilies and dried ginger. Garam masala is often used in vegetable dishes, parathas, samosa, and soups and dahls.

Chaat Masala is another fabulous masala that is commonly used in many different snacky types of food. A typical chaat masala is made of cumin seeds, dried mint leaves, carom seeds, asafetida, black salt, dried mango, cloves, ginger powder, cayenne, black pepper, salt and tartaric acid. This masala is used in many chaats or street snacks/fast foods such as pani puri, pakora, dahi puri, and is also sometimes simply sprinkled on fruits and salads. Chaats would simply not be as divine without this magic combination.

Chai Masala is used in chai. The word chai simply means tea in India and what the west calls chai is actually masala chai flavoured with this wonderful and tasty mix of spices. For a good chai masala, black peppercorns, cloves, green cardamom pods, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon are combined. Although followers of Krishna consciousness do not drink chai (we abstain from black tea because of the caffeine), this masala can be used to spice rooibos tea or decaffeinated tea for a nice warming drink. Because of the popularity of chai in the West, you can find many ideas for using chai masala such as flavoring for iced herbal tea, juices, milk, and even cakes and other deserts.

Another very common masala that is quite familiar to many is curry powder. Yes, curry powder is technically a masala. Curry powder is widely available in most grocery stores and is used in many different cuisines around the world. Many Asian dishes use curry powder as a flavoring in noodles or fried rices. Curry powder usually consists of the spices coriander, cumin, black pepper, paprika, ginger, turmeric, fenugreek, chili, cardamom and salt. Just like most of the masalas mentioned here, there are many different variations of spices that are still known under the term curry powder.

This small list of masalas is really just scratching the surface of the masala world. Many masalas are available for purchase ready made from numerous retailers. However, as with most things, if you can make the masala fresh, the flavour will be the best. If you are making masala chai, I would suggest boiling the crushed whole spices in water for a little bit before adding your rooibos tea leaves for a far superior flavor than any packages chai masala. If you are planning to make any masalas at home, an internet search should supply various recipes to help you with amounts. I do highly suggest adding masalas to your cooking as a fabulous way to bump up the flavor. Either homemade or store bought, you can’t really go too wrong.

Latest Recipes