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Make Your Own Indian Spice Mixes

Homemade spice blends are so much better, fresher and fragrant than store-bought, and this is especially true of Indian spice mixes like Garam Masala and Curry Powder. We're constantly working with spices at Demuths, and have taken a deep dive into their history with our exploration of the spice route. Here is a taste of what we've learned, plus recipes for homemade garam masala and homemade curry powder that will take your Indian recipes to a whole new level.

Spices in food and medicine

Almost every manufactured food contains added spices. What’s a hot cross bun without a dash of cinnamon? a curry sauce without turmeric? a dollop of Branston pickle without – wait for it – mustard, coriander, garlic, cinnamon, pepper, cloves, nutmeg and cayenne! But we often take spices for granted and rarely think about why they are used or where they come from.

Whether you have a loaded rack with 20 or more jars, or a single out-of-date mixed spice packet bought for a long-forgotten recipe, everyone has a spice of some kind at home. Using tiny amounts can make dramatic changes to the flavour of food, but behind every kitchen spice is a medicinal history that goes back thousands of years.

The original uses of nearly all spices were for healing purposes. Pepper and saffron were important ingredients in Arabian medicine, while ginger was used in Chinese remedies. Famous ancient Greco-Roman herbalists like Dioscorides used coriander, anise, and pepper in their spice-based medicines.

Venice was the hub of the spice trade before the Portuguese sent Marco Polo to China to do trade deals with the Chinese and undercut the Venetians. In Europe, the importers and distributers of these medicinal treasures were the Apothecaries, who were known as Spicers. The spices were often used in the same powdered form as in the kitchen, but they were also used as whole spices (seeds, bark, dried fruits), extracted in alcohol to take as a medicine, or made into tablets, capsules, salves, compresses or distilled oils.

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said: “Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food”. Aromatic spices such as fennel, coriander, and anise all help reduce indigestion and colic. Hot spices like chilli, pepper, ginger are warming and stimulate circulation. Ginger has been shown to prevent travel sickness as well as chilblains! So, next time you add spice to your cooking, think about how they can enhance your life, not only the enjoyment of your food.

Tips for Making Indian Spice Mixes

For Indian cooking you need a savoury and a sweet spice mix. The savoury spice mix is commonly known as curry powder, which is a British corruption of the Tamil word for sauce, “kari”, and is best used for empire-style dishes such as kedgeree. The sweet spice tends to be added at the end of cooking, and is known as Garam Masala in northern India and Bese Bel in the south.

To make Indian spice mixes, the three most important ingredients are coriander, cumin and mustard seeds. Always buy your spices whole, because the moment you grind a spice it begins to lose its pungency and aroma. To release the flavour, the whole spices need to be lightly dry-fried before crushing to a powder.

Place the seeds in a small frying pan over a medium heat and stir until the seeds begin to pop and give off their fragrant aroma. Take off the heat and immediately decant onto a plate, as they will continue to cook in a hot frying pan and will easily burn. Always dry fry coriander and cumin separately as cumin fries much quicker than coriander.

Mustard seeds will also go into your savoury spice mix and are added during tempering. This is when you add spices to hot oil and cook until the mustard seeds jump and pop, releasing their wonderful heat and flavour into the oil.


Homemade Curry Powder

An essential ingredient for vegetarian kedgeree and numerous other Indian recipes. 

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp whole brown mustard seeds
  • 1 tsp whole fenugreek seeds
  • 3 hot dried red chillies, crumbled
  • ½ tsp ground turmeric

Method:

  1. Dry fry all the spices except the turmeric until fragrant, but don’t let them brown as it will ruin the flavour. 
  2. Add the turmeric and quickly stir. 
  3. Decant onto a plate and leave to cool.
  4. Grind in a spice grinder/coffee grinder as finely as possible. 
  5. Store in an airtight container.

Homemade Garam Masala Powder (Bese Bele)

This is an aromatic sweet blend of spices favoured by the Brahmins of Bangalore. Used in numerous Indian recipes, including our masala dosas and masala vada (split pea dumplings in masala gravy).

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp cardamom seeds
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 5cm stick of cinnamon
  • 1/3 of a nutmeg
  • a curl of mace
  • 1 small dried chilli
  • 6 curry leaves
  • 1 tbsp un-sweetened coconut flakes

Method:

  1. Dry-fry all the spices until fragrant, take off the heat and add the coconut flakes. 
  2. Grind in a spice grinder/coffee grinder as finely as possible. 
  3. Store in an airtight container.

Learn more about how to use spices at one of our  Indian cookery courses at Demuths Cookery School. Our traditional stainless steel Indian Spice boxes complete with spices also make great presents! As does our traditional Japanese Suribachi pestle and mortar.

Try your homemade Indian Spice mixes in these favourite recipes from Demuths...

Golden Curried Vegetable Pasties


Paneer Baigan


Curried Chickpea Flour Dosas


For even more inspiration, check out our collection of vegetarian Indian recipes or come along to one of our Indian courses!

Delicious food photography by Rob Wicks of Eat Pictures.

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Comments

Sarah Altwater on 28th Jan 2015 said:

Great article!  I recently received RawSpiceBar’s Indian Spices- garam masala and tandoori spices for making chicken tikka masala and it was pretty spot on.  It’s tough to find freshly ground kashmiri chiles and other high quality hard to find spices.  Look forward to receiving next month’s spice blends from them and worth looking into if you’re an adventurous cook.

Reply to this comment

Veejay Raizada on 29th Mar 2018 said:

Homemade Indian spices are much healthier than we buy from the market. Great tips!

Reply to this comment