The exotic allure of Indian cuisine is often attributed to the distinctive spices that offer irresistible flavour, subtle texture and blooming colour to a variety of signature Indian dishes. From the sunshine yellows of turmeric to the deep red hue of chilli powder; from the zesty taste of coriander to the warming tones of cinnamon, spices have played an integral role in Indian culinary culture for hundreds of years. Curries, stews, desserts and drinks – all manner of recipes can be given an Indian make-over with the addition of the right blend of spices.
In Indian cuisine, there is quite an art to blending your spices, ensuring that the balance of flavour aligns perfectly. The quintessential spice mix, utilised in kitchens all over India as well as in those of such establishments as London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants, has to be that famous of all spice blends, garam masala. The clue is even in the name, with the Hindi ‘garam’translating as ‘hot’and the ‘masala’as ‘spice blend’.
However, this isn’t to say there is just one tried and true recipe for this notorious mix. In fact, every state, restaurant, village and even family in India are likely to adhere to their own unique recipe, passed down through the generations, perhaps with a little tweak here and there. As a result, there are many different variations on the recipe for the perfect garam masala, yet all are based around a few common ingredients. A traditional garam masala recipe would involve specific amounts of coriander, fennel, cumin, black pepper and ground bay leaves. When prepared from fresh, whole spices and stored in an air-tight container, garam masala can hold its flavour for six to eight weeks; although in order to truly release the aromas, lightly roast the spice before adding to your dish.
But aside from being a treat on the tongue, garam masala has other benefits – benefits that have been associated with the spice mix for hundreds of years, thanks to the ancient Hindu medicinal practice of Ayurveda. In Ayurvedic texts, garam masala plays an important role in maintaining the balance of the digestive fire known as ‘agni’. The spice blend provides the right level of heat to fuel the agni, speeding up metabolism and snapping a sluggish digestive system into action to flush out the toxins of the body.
In Ayurveda, it is also believed that garam masala helps to strengthen the immune system, warding off disease and promoting the body’s absorption of vitamins and minerals. The spice blend is also thought to relieve discomfort from bloating, heartburn and a range of digestive issues, whilst simultaneously lowering blood sugar levels. Garam masala has even been reported to help fight bad breath and to help slow down the ageing process.
If you are looking for a wonder spice that not only helps make your food taste amazing but provides a wealth of healthful benefits (and frankly, who isn’t?), then look no further than the magnificent garam masala.