You may have tasted it before, but do you know the answer to the following question: What is garam masala? Spoiler alert, it’s not a meal or dish — it’s actually a blend of spices.
Garam masala may originate in India, but in terms of what spices actually go into a garam masala recipe, the variations are all over the map. Often containing more than 10 different spices, garam masala is loaded with health benefits no matter its ingredients. The goal of this mixture of spices is not to set your mouth on fire, but rather to provide a rich, warming flavor to things such as hummus recipes.
An amazingly complex blend of delicious spices, garam masala truly makes any dish it’s added to that much more interesting. You also get the health benefits of each and every spice that’s used to create it. In general, spices are loaded with powerful disease-fighting and health-promoting antioxidants. For instance, garam masala contains many spices that are believed to help prevent cancer.
It’s pretty awesome how a sprinkle of a spice mix could be so impressively good for your health.
What Is Garam Masala?
Garam masala, pronounced gah-RAHM mah-SAH-lah, is a mix of ground, typically dry-roasted spices native to India. Garam is actually Indian for “warm” or “hot,” which is perfect since garam masala is known for creating a warmth both internally and externally. What is masala? Masala is Hindi for “spice.” It’s used to describe any of the various spice mixes used in Indian cuisine. In addition to India, this warm spice mix is also commonly used in Pakistan and other South Asian cuisines.
Not all garam masala recipes are created equal. There are a plethora of variations often depending upon the Indian region or village of origin, the family recipe passed down through generations, or the whim of the individual creator. Max numbers vary, but the spice blend has been said to sometimes contain more than 30 ingredients.
What spices are commonly in garam masala? A traditional recipe often contains black peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, mace (or nutmeg) and cumin. Other common ingredients include fennel, coriander and bay leaves. Whatever spices are used, they’re all carefully combined and blended for a balanced flavor, which is warming and somewhat sweet but totally sugar-free.
Garam masala can be made by dry roasting the spices and then grinding them into a powder, or it can be made without dry roasting.
When ground, the garam masala spices are gently heated until they release their aroma and then they’re ground together into a powder to be used mainly as a finishing spice. When used whole, these spices are called khada masala and are added to hot oil to release their flavors before other recipe ingredients are added.
Some say garam masala originated in Northern India where the winters are cold. The idea for curry powder, which started being commercially made in the 1780s, was likely inspired by this mix of spices. Curry powder made it quicker and less costly to flavor traditional Indian dishes. Garam masala also has a long history in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
Benefits of Garam Masala
1. Improves Digestive Fire
According to Ayurvedic medicine, garam masala is properly named for its ability to heat up the body or improve digestive fire. The foundation of this 5,000-year-old system of natural healing is agni or digestive fire. According to Ayurveda, you need to provide your body with the right type and amount of warming foods to maintain optimal digestive fire.
Garam masala is said to do this by increasing the consumer’s body temperature and consequently raising metabolism as well. This prevents sluggish digestion and the build of of toxins in the body that result from digestive fire not being ideal. Garam masala also brings all the six rasas (tastes) into a dish to promote a balancing effect on the consumer.
2. Wards Off Constipation
Since garam masala improves digestion, it’s not surprising that it’s also been shown to decrease digestive transit time, which is excellent for decreasing the likelihood of constipation. This is hugely important to our health since constipation is one of the main ways that our bodies naturally detoxify on a regular basis.
According to a small study published in the journal Tropical Gastroenterology, consumption of garam masala led to a faster digestive transit time in well-nourished, healthy human adult volunteers. Meanwhile, consumption of a spice-free meal was associated with a tendency toward a slower gastrocolic transit.