Garam Masala is a Hindi term that describes a blend of spices. It translates as hot spice (Garam – hot and Masala – spice). The word masala actually derives from the Arabic Maslahah, meaning ‘that which is good’.
Although there are no hard and fast rules, a Garam Masala recipe, sometimes referred to as Gorum Moshla, usually includes the warming spices of black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin and nutmeg. It is used in Indian cookery, particularly in Northern India as well as the neighboring countries of Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan. There are myriad variations to Garam Masala and recipes vary according to region. Most Indian families have a particular blend that has been used for many generations and ingredients may include bay leaves, fenugreek, garlic, ginger, mace, mustard seeds, saffron, tamarind, and turmeric.
Garam Masala is extensively used in curries, as well as vegetable dishes and samosa recipes. Some cooks use different versions, for example one recipe for meat dishes and another to add to vegetables.
The spices within a garam masala recipe are believed to provide warmth to the body. Although the word garam means heat it does not directly relate to the spices, it means that the spices raise body heat because they are thought to increase the metabolism. This is an important part of Ayurvedic principles whereby warmth is considered to be crucial. Digestion is known as agni, and this translates as fire. The agni relies on warmth for its strength. When the agni is weakened, as in digestion becomes sluggish, then the body will produce toxins. It is probably for this reason that a number of recipes for Garam Masala exist within Ayurvedism. It is mostly eaten as an appetizer, it aids digestion in that it prevents an excess of gas, controls mucus, and provides the body with heat.
In order to prevent the pain of indigestion, Ayurvedics say that a quarter of a teaspoon of garam masala can be stirred into a glass of warm water. The mixture then needs to be swallowed thirty minutes before eating.
Ayurvedic practitioners believe that garam masala stimulates the appetite. It is recommended that 1 teaspoon of the spice blend is heated and added to 2 teaspoons of ghee. It may then be eaten with a small amount of bread prior to a meal.
It takes time and care to prepare a garam masala recipe, and although a homemade recipe is probably the most favorable, in today’s hectic world it is not always possible. Therefore it may be convenient to buy a ready prepared pack. The garam masala blend of spices can be bought as a powder, or as a paste, from grocery stores and markets.