Garam Masala - Use Whole Or Pre-Grounded Spices?

So you looked at several recipes on how to make garam masala, that wonderfully rich Indian spice blend often used in chutneys.  Some recipes state that you use whole seeds, dry-pan roast and than grind.  Other recipes instruct you to use pre-ground spices or the ready-made garam masala spice blend purchased from the grocery store.  Is there a difference?  Indeed, yes.  

Recently, I made two batches of spicy persimmon chutney.  In the first batch, a pre-ground spice mix was used to make the garam masala. The spicy flavor was subdued almost to a hint of its presence.  And the chutney was dark.

In the second batch, I used whole spices, pan-roasted and then grounded the mix between parchment paper, pounding it with a wooden rolling pin to a medium-find powder.  Why?  I don't have a grinder.  (Needless to say, a grinder is on my kitchen wish list!)  The flavor was unmistakably pronounced and richer.  It balanced with the sweetness and tartness of the chutney, bringing out these flavors even more.  Roasting the spices intensifies their flavors.  And yes, chutney improves with age and is said to taste better when stored for three months.  I can't testify for that because home made chutney barely remains in my household for  six weeks, especially during winter holidays! 

In some parts of India, garam masala spice blend is used raw; that is, it is not dry-pan roasted.  I've never tried this but perhaps it would be an interesting cooking project.  Whichever method you choose, here are the measurements for mixing your own garam masala. 

garam-masala-ingredients.png

 

Using pre-ground spices: 

Making garam masala with pre-ground spices is quicker and easier to make.  You may already have some of the spices in your cabinet. From Allrecipes, here are measurements to make gara masala using pre-ground spices.  Then just thoroughly mix the spices. 

  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1-1/2 tsp coriander
  • 1-1/2 tsp cardamon
  • 1-1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg


Using Whole Spices:

Measurements to blend whole spices, inspired by NPR.org

  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp coriander
  • 1 Tbsp cardamon
  • 1/2 Tbsp black pepper corn
  • 1/2 Tbsp white pepper corn
  • 2 sticks cinnamon
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1 tsp nutmeg grated (about 1 whole nutmeg)
  • 1/2 tsp ground saffron (optional) 

Instructions for making garam masala using whole spices:

In a heavy bottom skillet on medium-high heat, cook all ingredients, except the nutmeg, for about 2 minutes or until very aromatic.  Stir while cooking. Grate the nutmeg. Grind all ingredients in coffee or spice grinder.  Note: Cardamon shells can be removed before or after the roasting. Prior to dry-pan roasting, I had cut a tip of the pod and was able to easily split it open and remove the soft seeds.

Which method is best? 

Well, sometimes we're just faced with what is convenient and that has to suffice.  So using pre-ground spices or just purchasing a ready-made mix may be preferred.  On the other hand, an exciting trip to a spice shop and roasting the spices is a fun project that will reward your taste buds with absolute pleasure.  You can share the experience or just keep the fun all to yourself.


I now of course prefer using whole spices for making garam masala.  
Do you have a preferred mix for garam masala or is this just news to you?