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Garam masala, which literally means hot (garam) spice (masala), is a popular spice blend used throughout India and neighbouring countries too. It is a powder made of more than 10 types of spices, and is added in small quantities at the end of the cooking process, or along with the tempering. Garam masala can be used alone or along with other seasonings and spice powders. It has a pungent flavour but is not fiery hot like chilli powder. So, some dishes might require the addition of chilli powder along with garam masala. Remember that garam masala, if added in greater quantities, or cooked for too long, can overpower the dish with its strong flavour. It is better to add just a little for its valuable special touch!
Garam masala is readily available in shops, but some families also prefer to prepare it in bulk at home. Each region and each family has its own formula with varying combinations and proportions of spices according to personal preferences. Some of the common ingredients in garam masala are black and white peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, long pepper (also known as pippali), black cumin (known as shah jeera), cumin seeds, cinnamon, black, brown and green cardamom, nutmeg, mace, star anise and coriander seeds.
How to select
• While readymade garam masala is available in all supermarkets, as with all ground spices, they tend to lose their aroma soon.
• Whole spices, which keep fresh much longer, can be ground when needed using a mortar and pestle or electric coffee grinder.
• While buying packaged garam masala, check the expiry date and feel for lumpiness (sign of moisture inside the packet). Check the seal of the package too, to ensure maximum aroma.
• Combining the flavours of myriad spices, garam masala has endless culinary uses.
• It is usually added to curries, vegetable dishes, soups or stews toward the end of cooking, or sprinkled over the surface just before serving.
• It can be used while tempering dals and khichdis, added to marinades, or sprinkled over papads.
How to store
• Store the masala in an airtight container in a cool and dark place.
• Since the masala powder is added only in small quantities, it does not have substantial health benefits.
• However, the use of beneficial spices like cloves and peppercorns helps improve digestion and immune functions.