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Apr 29, 2008 09:47 AM

Indian Curry Powder - Which brands are best?

In the past I've had terrible experiences with cheap supermarket curry powder, so I've always steered away from recipes that call for it. That said, I'm not exactly in a position to make my own from scratch either. Now I have 2 recipes I want to make (by Mark Bittman and Eric Ripert) that call for curry powder. Which brand do folks recommend?

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  1. Ship brand Green Label Madras curry powder is alright.

    1. Sun brand is good. but it's easy to make your own and so much better. Mahdur Jaffrey(sp?) has seveeral very simple recipes for differet types. Usually, if a recipe calls for "curry" powder, it means Madras style, which is made from cumin, coriander, tumeric, ginger, cardamom, fenugreek garlic and cayenne. some add some mustard and black pepper. the best way is to fry the whole seeds until fragrant then grind in a mortar.

      8 Replies
      1. re: chazzerking

        But making your own requires buying a bunch of spices that the OP may not have. And after using those spices in a couple of dishes, the rest will get lost in the back of the cupboard for the next 10 yrs.

        What was so terrible about the cheap brands? Buying the 'best' wouldn't help if the problem is inherent to the style (e.g. too hot, or the bitterness of tumeric).

        What are the recipes that you are interested in? In India, different spice blends are used for different dishes, and by different cooks. Some will have the distinctive yellow color of turmeric. Others will just use a brown mix called garam masala (literally 'warm spice mix'). Some are hot, some mild.

        Also, we are talking about Indian style curies, not Thai, Chinese or Japanese, right?


        1. re: paulj

          That's a great point on "now what do I do with all of these spices??"

          So that I didn't end up with those spices rattling around, I keep a special crate just for storage of all of my Indian cooking goodies. I stash the whole bin away until it's time to whip up something Indian. Now I can find everything, and I use them all the time! Grab a mini-grinder just for spices, and keep it in the bin, and start toasting up all sorts of blends.

          I love to make my own garam masala. The difference in flavor is really remarkable.

          I do end up using a lot of the spices on their own or in other dishes too, I find. Having cardamom around inspired me to try some cardamom baked goods, which was fun!

          1. re: foxy fairy

            I totally agree with you, the thing is, once you're able to experience some of these spices that you thought you weren't interested in, you ARE! I would of never tried half the spices, nor developed such a love for spices such as cumin had I not made my own curry or garam masala. Oh what the difference in adding some of these wonderfully fragrant spices can make to a simple pot of beans!

            1. re: foxy fairy

              foxy: I do exactly the same thing...only without the box. I end up searching through my spice cupboard screeching "WHERE DID I PUT THOSE danged ajwain seeds!

              I keep telling myself that I'll get organized and make a separate plastic container for my Indian spices, but I never do. Maybe the frustration and desperate fumbling to find the spice I'm looking for is part of the ritual.

            2. re: paulj

              Yes, Indian-style curry powder.

              I can't describe the problem with the cheap brands, except that there was something overly processed tasting about them. The flavor didn't have a lot of depth either.

              1. re: Oliverstreet

                One possibility is that the cheap brands were overly heavy in turmeric. It gives a lot of color, but only a modest amount of flavor, and that flavor is mainly bitter. My bottle of Trader Joes powder gives cumin as the first ingredient, with turmeric second.

                Another problem is that, unless you use a tablespoon or more, the spices are not going add a lot of depth of flavor. And some mixes are hot enough that a tablespoon is too much for American palates.

                I think much of the 'depth of flavor' in good Indian cooking comes from the use of fresh flavorings like onion, garlic, and ginger. Restaurant versions increase the richness with a lot of butter.

                I use the TJ curry powder mainly to add a 'curry' accent to a dish, in the style of a French curry sauce. For meat stew with some real Indian character, I prefer using the seasoning bases that come in paste form (e.g. Pataks brand). I make a modest use of garam masala. Spices like cumin, fennel, cinnamon, and ginger are useful in other cuisines, so I have fairly fresh supply of those. My stock of coriander, cardamom, fenugreek, and mustard seeds is quite old.


            3. re: chazzerking

              I like Sun brand. I've tried others, including some of Penzys' that came highly recommended, but I keep going back to Sun.

              1. re: MsMaryMc

                Penzeys is more easily accessible for me, but Sun is probably better.

            4. Just curious about your statement that "I'm not exactly in a position to make my own from scratch." Curry powders are incredibly simple to make from a handful of spices that can be bought cheap at any Indian market. You may decide that you're not up for it, but realize how simple it is before you make that call.

              For a basic curry powder, all you have to do is toast equal parts cumin seeds, cardamom seeds, coriander seeds, lightly crushed cinnamon stick, and whole cloves in a small skillet until fragrant, then transfer to a coffee grinder and pulse until you have a powder. Done and done.

              You can vary the proportions (some people prefer more coriander) or add ingredients such as turmeric, peppercorns, cayenne, fenugreek, nutmeg, dried ginger, and/or cari leaves. But even the most basic version is still going to be better than most store-bought stuff.

              1 Reply
              1. re: alanbarnes

                Bravo alanbarnes! I totally agree about making one's own curry powder and garam masala. It's not much trouble at all and, if you don't make a gigantic batch, it won't get stale before you use it up. In addition, after making curry powder one tends to find more recipes calling for it.

              2. In order to answer your question, I find that Rajah curry powder is decent.

                1. My default blend is Penzeys sweet curry with added hot pepper.

                  That said curry is only name name of a spice blend but it varies widely depending on the region and food involved.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Kelli2006

                    I think Cook's Illustrated liked the Penzey's the best when they tasted tested curry powders.

                    I hit the Indian market once a month or so and get whatever looks interesting, but I don't have a particular favorite brand.

                    1. re: coney with everything

                      They did--and they really panned Sun. That's why I tried the Penzey's one they recommended. One of my favorite dishes from our regular family dinner rotation--Curried Pork Loin--came out so vastly less tasty using it that I don't think I would have made it again if I hadn't known how good it was with Sun.

                      Bottom line--it's really a matter of personal taste. Try a few brands, mix up your own by a couple of different recipes, and see what you like best.