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Nov 11, 2010 11:22 AM

What's the difference?

Ok, what's the difference between curry and garam masala? Is it lack of turmeric, or coriander? What?

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  1. Charlie, has a wonderful explanation that you can just search. A quick explanation is that curry is used at the beginning of cooking to infuse, and garam, which is composed of different sweet and savory-profiled spices, is used toward the end to finish. But you'll have to get the ingredient list from the site.

    3 Replies
    1. re: mamachef

      I agree with mamachef regarding the beginning/end uses. For a quick and dirty explanation, curry is a blend of savory spices, such as fenugreek, tumeric, cumin, etc. while garam masala (garam means "hot" in Hindi, meaning "warm" not hot as in spicy) is comprised of "warm" spices like cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves.

      1. re: mels

        Hmmm. So curry powder does not actually contain any powdered khari leaf?

        1. re: Perilagu Khan

          If you mean Murraya koenigii, culinary neem or curry leaves, I don't think so. In some curry powder mixes in the South they will put whole neem leaves in the spice mix, but I don't think I've ever come across a blend using the leaves ground up. I haven't even seen the whole leaves in curry powder for a long time. It is highly preferable to use the leaves fresh, and it's been years since I've seen dried leaves in an Indian grocers now that the fresh have become widely available (despite the blight in the south)

      1. Garam masala is a spice mix.

        Curry is an anglicised word suggesting sauce (or, indeed, a more anglicised general term referring to many dishes from Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as other parts of the world which have adopted similar styles)

        5 Replies
        1. re: Harters

          Could b wrong, but I believe OP meant 'curry powder'. Curry powder which indeed like garam masala, is a spice mixture.

          1. re: crt

            Ah, you may be right - and your physic powers greater than mine. ;-)

            Havnt used curry powder (or pre-made curry sauces) for 20+ years, for the reasons others have mentioned.

            1. re: Harters

              Acutally I didn't read through all the responses, so I didn't know 'why' that others weren't using curry powder for years and years. I do have a bottle of TJs curry powder on a shelf in my cupborad. I too rarely use it. Not being an expert on Indian cuisine I have to admit that I too recently learned the difference between the two, curry powder and curry. Aren't the Internet and Wikipedia great tools, Harters? ;-)

              1. re: crt

                Indeed. Although I would never trust WikiP as an authoritive source on its own. That way lies madness.

                1. re: Harters

                  Yeah. I've pretty much come to the conclusion that when somebody references Wikipedia, those who reference it as well come back with a response such as yours. Whatever.

        2. Oh CharlieKilo -

          If you are asking because you are starting to get into Indian Cooking / Food, then you are about to be well rewarded. I'll take it a step further than the previous posters, and say that "curry" simply means sauce. I avoid things labeled "curry powder" for my Indian (inspired) cooking at home. I will buy some prepackaged spice mixes (masalas) to make a specific curry like makhani, or kerahi, or nehari, but I tend to shy away from packaged "curry powders" unless they are for a specific curry. SO, in my mind (which may be entirely wrong:)

          Makhani Masala = spice mix for makhani curry
          Garam Masala = warm spice mix usually used as a finishing spice mix
          Nehari Masala = spice mix for making a nehari curry
          Curry Powder = spice mix for making a curry. What curry though? That is why I tend to not buy these.
          Curry Powder in the wetern sense = Usually something totally inedible, IMO.

          6 Replies
          1. re: gordeaux

            I agree completely with avoiding curry powder, unless you want to make a retro chicken curry dish, which, incidentally, can be quite delicious.

            Garam masala, OTOH, is a perfectly respectable spice mixture which I use frequently.

            1. re: Perilagu Khan

              "I agree completely with avoiding curry powder, unless you want to make a retro chicken curry dish, which, incidentally, can be quite delicious."


              I completely agree with that! In the past year I have really dug into Indian cooking however I still love me some generic curry powder for curried chicken salad (past its trendy prime, still delicious, with raisins, please) and a few other non-Indian dishes I make that call for just a teaspoon or so as a background note. For me it definitely serves a purpose but I generally never use it when cooking Indian food.

              In most Indian dishes I make, I toast the whole spices then grind them up. An extra step but it yields superior results. Also, if you have an Indian grocery near you, dried whole spices are dirt cheap and, at least at my market, tend to be very fresh.

              1. re: mels

                I use my cheap sweet curry powder for a 'gravy' that I dip French fries in, a dish I snagged from the Irish pub down the road. It's an indulgence that I haven't had recently enough, in fact. It tastes best with very thick fries, at three am.

                1. re: onceadaylily

                  Here's a good use of curry powder, the classic French 'Sauce au cari'


                  and another, the German Currywurst

                  or chip shop curry sauce

                  1. re: paulj

                    For those of you who have never had chip shop curry sauce and may be tempted. Don't!

            2. re: gordeaux

              I may be the sole dissenting voice here - but many authentic Indian dishes do in fact use curry powder. Whether curry powder purchased in the US is remotely equivalent to curry powders purchased by Indian cooks is a different matter (and the answer is probably not).

              I don't know where some people's idea of what ought to be in "curry powder" came from. One thing I can't figure out how it snuck into "curry powder" is dry yellow mustard. Alton Brown has a recipe for "curry powder" that has dry yellow mustard in it, and you find it in the list of ingredients occasionally. I guess the idea is that curry powder is yellow (well cheap curry powder is often yellow) so any ground up yellow spice is good to go. Bleh! Anyway.

              If you can find a curry powder you like then stick with that and you'll get consistent results. My favorite was Sri Ganeshram's 777 Madras Curry Powder but I've not been able to buy it locally for many years.

              Here's a link to a pretty decent curry powder recipe:


              Indian cooks use curry powder the same as any other masala mix, as a shortcut. It goes in at an early stage of cooking, unlike garam masala and some other masalas which generally go in nearer the end.

              That said, commercial curry powders are wildly variable in quality, even in India. There are regional variations as well. But in general, cheap blends are heavy on the cheapest spices, such as turmeric (hence the characteristic yellow color of some cheap curry powders) or coriander. If you can find a commercial blend you like, there's no reason to turn your nose up at it, but it's pretty easy to make your own and tailor it to your cooking style. Even if I use a curry powder I still like more cumin so I'll often temper some cumin seed and dried cayenne before adding the onion/garlic/ginger and ground spices (including curry powder).

            3. Thanks to all for the great answers!
              Now I'm totally confused..... :-)

              3 Replies
              1. re: CharlieKilo

                Charlie, so many are. I don't know how to refer to a dish that I've built around 'curry powder' half the time.

                Garam masala and curry powder have many of the same elements. Black pepper is one of the dividing lines. You will see that any curry powder that has it also has additional notes of a sweeter spice, herb or root. Look up the recipes for either, and you will see that garam masala imparts a sharper note above a curry powder's savory.

                Confusing the issue is the Euro/US-centric in what is known as curry (a powder), rather than what the word 'curry' was meant to describe: a dish (a stew) with a common foundation. It has become a very sweet thing, this common curry powder. I could be wrong, but I tend to think of a garam masala as a spice mixture to *use* in a curry, while the curry powder I *still*, as a Midwesterner woman, love, is merely an element of such.

                I stand behind curry (powder) fries one hundred percent. Make the gravy with equal parts chicken stock and milk, though. And add a bit of pepper. ;)

                1. re: onceadaylily

                  As a hardcore poutine lover, I am always looking for new ways to get some sort of dressed fries into my system. I will be trying your curry gravy, it sounds delicious. Do you make it as you would typical gravy, e.g. a roux then add equal parts milk and stock?

                  1. re: mels

                    I do use a mix of stock and milk, but tend to err on the side of stock for the proportions. Too much milk makes it less savory, a bit too thick, and sits too heavy in the stomach (for me).

                    ETA: And it looks like paulj posted a few recipes right above our heads. Thanks, paulj.