Can I use garam masala instead of curry paste? (differences)

In this article, we will answer the following question: “Can I use garam masala instead of curry paste?” and discuss the differences between garam masala and curry powder, and how to prepare a homemade garam masala.

Can I use garam masala instead of curry paste?

Yes, you can use garam masala instead of curry paste, but there are some differences between these two spice mixes. Curry paste has the consistency of a paste and contains, in addition to dried spices, fresh ingredients, including garlic and shallots (1, 2, 4). 

Garam masala is a mixture of dried spices and contains an anticaking additive (rice powder) and can be stored at room temperature, while the curry paste needs to be refrigerated or dried to be preserved (1, 3).

The curry paste is traditionally used in Thai cuisine, although it can be found in Asian dishes in general and can be used in place of curry paste, which is widely used worldwide.

However, garam masala is characteristic of Indian cuisine (5).

What is the difference between curry paste and garam masala?

The main differences between curry paste and garam masala are their moisture content, which results in different textures and the ingredients used to make the two spice mixtures (1, 3, 5).

Curry paste is commonly used in foods, such as meats, while garam masala is used in foods and as a flavouring for beverages, including cocoa (5).

Although many ingredients are found in both preparations, such as chilli and coriander (3, 5). There are some variations in the composition of curry paste, depending on the type and the origin of the paste.

For instance, red and green paste differs in the maturation of the chilli pepper used. As the name indicates, green curry paste is made with chilli peppers in its green stage of maturation, while red curry paste is made with mature chilli peppers (3).

Another difference is that garam masala contains ginger, cinnamon and cloves, which may result in a very different flavour and aroma when compared to curry paste, which does not contain any of these spices, or salve exceptions (3, 4, 5).

What are the ingredients of curry paste?

The ingredients of the curry paste are:

Galangal: a rhizome-like spice that originated in Indonesia with a bitter, acrid aroma (6)

Chilli peppers: During ripening, the concentration of green pigments, chlorophylls, decreases and the carotenoids develop, giving the red colour to the peppers. Green curry paste is prepared with green peppers (7).

Shallots: Allium ascaonicum L. belongs to the same family as onions and garlic (3).

Coriander: the high concentration of thymol in its composition gives this spice a distinct flavour (7).

Lemongrass: Lemongrass gives a note of freshness to the food, like orange and ginger (7).

Garlic: Garlic has a strong antimicrobial effect and helps preserve food (7).

Curry paste can also contain other spices, such as turmeric, cumin seeds, black pepper, sugar and salt and its composition may vary, according to the region where it is produced (3).

What are the ingredients in garam masala?

The ingredients in garam masala are (5, 7):

Coriander, black pepper, bay leaves, green cardamom, ginger, red chilli, nutmeg and cumin, cinnamon and cloves. The mixture is dry and added with an anticaking agent to avoid moisture increase.

Coriander: Coriander has an aromatic pleasant aroma commonly used to flavour drinks (6).

Black pepper: Black pepper is the most consumed spice worldwide (7).

Bay leaf: A Turkish spice used in meats and fish (7).

Green cardamom: Can be used in sweet and salty dishes, considered to be the “Queen of spices” (7).

Ginger: Ginger increases the fresh taste of the dishes (7). 

Red chilli: Red chilli is pungent and spicy due to the presence of capsaicin, an alkaloid compound (7).

Nutmeg: A spice from Indonesia that is characterised as slightly sweet (7).

Cumin: Cumin belongs to the parsley family and has a distinct aroma (7).

Cinnamon: Cinnamon is obtained from the bark of an evergreen tree and is widely used in the culinary industry (7).

Clove: Clove is a flower bud that is used in the dried form in rice and meat dishes, however, its aroma deteriorates quickly (7).

Other FAQs about Curry that you may be interested in.

What can I add to a jar of curry sauce?

What can I add to curry paste?

What can I use if I don’t have curry paste?

How to make a homemade garam masala?

To make a homemade garam masala, you will need:

coriander seeds, cumin, black pepper, cloves, cinnamon, dried bay leaves, green cardamom, dried ginger powder, red chilli powder, nutmeg and rice flour.

Mix the spices using a pistil and a mortar or a food grinder till all the ingredients are converted to a fine powdered form.

The amount of each ingredient is optional and depends on personal preferences, except for the rice flour, which is used as an anticaking and should be used at 1.9 % of the weight of the final mixture (5).

Store the mixture in an airtight container till use.


In this article, we answered the following question: “Can I use garam masala instead of curry paste?” and discussed the differences between garam masala and curry powder, and how to prepare a homemade garam masala.

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