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What is Curry Powder and how is it different to other Indian spices

What is Curry Powder and how is it different to other Indian spices

A spice blend that has become synonymous to Indian cooking, but what is curry powder and why do people think it is an Indian spice? What are the curry powder ingredients that make it an Indian spice? Read on and be surprised to know the origins of Curry powder. 

What is curry powder. homemade curry powder recipe
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The love of many Indian food enthusiasts, who lovingly call all Indian dishes ‘Curry’ is one of my pet hates!

This post is going to be a bit of a rant, a vent and ultimately a revelation so hang in there for some Bollywood melodrama kinda post :-)!

It was only after moving to the UK did I realise that I could buy what called itself an instant Indian curry spice mix named ‘Curry Powder’ from off the shelf of a small village supermarket.

I was both ecstatic at the find, as well as intrigued to know what does curry powder have in it to be called Indian curry powder spice?

So I bought a bottle, as the nearest Indian store was about an hour’s drive from home and this was my easiest quick fix!

Looking through the curry powder ingredients list I chanced upon the ingenious British invention of Indian flavour captured in a  bottle.

The curry powder contents contained typical spices used to make a basic Indian curry.

I have to say I was impressed by its practicality and ease of use but sadly could not say that about the taste or flavour.

It felt more like a curry powder seasoning rather than the an authentic Indian spice blend.

So the Indian in me had to make the hour-long run to the Indian store after all!

Where Does Curry Come From?

The word ‘Curry’ as well as the contributor ingredient that is ‘curry powder’ is a parting gift of the Brits to the Indian subcontinent.

The origin of curry comes from the Indian word ‘Kari’ which means gravy or any dish that has a sauce base.

90% of Indian main dishes have sauce as a base.

So the word Curry has become to be a popular Western terminology to describe any or all Indian dishes.

It is also good to know that Curries are not just limited to Indian cuisine.

Many South Asian cuisines such as Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese have curries as well.  And so do African and Mediterranean cuisines.

The commonality between all the curries is a sauce base.

What is Curry Powder And The story Behind It?

The question here is What is Curry Powder made of that makes it a globally popular spice blend? 

This is where the plot thickens.

Interestingly there are different types of curry powder that are found in the market.

These are;

  1. Indian curry powder
  2. Madras curry powder
  3. Singaporean curry powder

A common question asked during my cooking classes is, ‘Is Curry powder a spice?’

The confusion stems from the fact that it is used as a add to any dish to make it curry flavoured kind of spice.

Curry powder is actually a spice blend like many other types of Indian spice blends.

An Indian curry powder spice mix will typical include Indian spices for cooking a curry.

It is believed that during the British rule, who loved the taste of Indian food wanted to cook the dishes at home as well.

However Indian cuisine turned out to be a bit complex for our Fish & Chips lovers to cook because of the use of many spices.

And so to make it easier they came up with the idea of making a spice mix of their own.

The one ingredient used for making most Indian dishes is the magic spice blend called ‘Garam Masala’.

When questioned about the different spices that goes into a Garam Masala blend they realised that there was no set recipe for a Garam masala which was further confusing.

Their solution was to indicatively mix most popular spices that came closest to tasting like spicy Indian food!

So there, Voila! You have your very own British Indian ‘Curry Powder’!

What’s In Curry Powder That Makes It Different To Garam Masala?

Although curry powder was a replacement for Garam Masala Powder, there is a difference between Curry powder VS Garam Masala powder.

The difference between the two Indian spice blends is explained in detail in this post so that you know how to use both the spices correctly for cooking.

The essential difference between the two is the type of spices and quantity of spices used.

What Spices Are In Curry Powder?

Like all spice blends, there is no set curry powder ingredients.

Each commercially bought blend has different constituents of spices for making curry powder as well as quantity!

However, there are few ingredients that are a must-have for making a curry powder blend.

Spices that go into a Curry powder has a mix of pungent and sweet spices to balance the taste.

The must-have spices are the common Indian spices for curry. These are: Cumin seeds, Coriander seeds, Turmeric and  Black pepper (the pungent spices). While the sweet spices are Cloves and Cinnamon.

A basic composition of a curry spice will include:

  • cumin powder
  • coriander powder
  • turmeric Powder
  • chilli powder

In addition to this, curry powder masala spice blends can include any or many of the below spices:

  • cardamom
  • ginger powder
  • cinnamon
  • nutmeg
  • mustard seeds
  • black pepper
  • fennel
  • bay leaf
  • black cardamom
  • cloves
  • curry leaves

The type of spices and quantity of spices used to make a curry masala spice blend is varied and brand dependent.

Difference Between Madras Curry Powder and Curry Powder

The curry powder blend is essentially made by spices commonly used to in North Indian Dishes.

However, by changing the composition and proportions of spices used in a blend you will find different types of curry spice mixes.

If you have wondered what is the difference between Madras Curry powder and curry powder, then it is the type of spices used. 

Ingredients used to make Madras curry powder may include dried curry leaves, more mustard seeds and chilli.

What Can You Use Instead Of Curry Powder ?

Being a spice mix, a substitute for curry powder will mean a mix of different type of single spices.

If you do not have curry powder then try mixing 1 tsp each of the following spices;

  1. Ground Cumin
  2. Ground Coriander
  3. Turmeric powder
  4. Chilli powder or paprika

The second option is to use 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of garam Masala powder. Do read the post on the uses of Garam Masala before you use it as a substitute for Curry powder.

Pinterest image of homemade curry powder in a bowl

What To Make With Curry Powder- Cooking Ideas

Please do take note of this section if you think that curry powders can only be used for making Indian curries.

You are so missing out on adding a whole depth of flavour plus the added health benefits.

Apart from making Indian curries, here are few ideas on how to use curry powder for cooking.

I do this many times and get away with compliments about the dish made in and with a dash:

  1. Add a teaspoon to stir-fried vegetables.
  2. Add it to noodles to make Singapore styled fried noodles or curried flavoured noodles
  3. Make yummy soups by adding curry powder to broth
  4. Add to mayonnaise, ketchup and make curry flavour versions
  5. You can also use it to make dips, such as guacamole, sour cream or even salsa
  6. Use it for marinades and rubs for meats and fish.
  7. Add it to stews
  8. You can also make spicy chutneys and sauces.
  9. Use as a seasoning for salads especially potato salad and salad made with legumes.
  10. A teaspoon added to mincemeat such as beef, lamb, pork makes great tasting burgers and pies.
  11. You can also add it to eggs made in any form boiled, mashed, scrabbled or omelette
  12. Have fun with curry powder and make curried olive oil. It tastes great for basting and as a salad oil

Here is an example of Corned Beef Hash recipe I made with the homemade curry powder.

Health Benefits of Curry Powder

Since curry powder is a blend of different spices, each spice contributes its own, apart from imparting a distinctive flavour and taste.

Depending on the different kind of spices used to make the blend, Curry powder is good for the following reasons:

Aids digestion:

Black pepper, cumin and ginger powder used in the mix help to relieve digestive discomfort such as bloating, constipation, excess gas and abdominal cramps. It also helps to alleviate nausea and vomiting.

Reduces Inflammation and Body Pain:

Turmeric is the spice that gives Indian dishes its characteristic yellow colour. Past and recent studies show that the active compound in Turmeric, curcumin, blocks several inflammatory chemicals reducing inflammation throughout the body.

Turmeric also aids in bone regrowth, connectivity, and repair. This helps in reducing signs of bone loss and improve bone health.

Boosts Immunity

The combination of spices makes curry powder rich in vitamin A, C, and B6. This helps to build up a healthy immune system and protects the body from viruses and bacteria.

Prevents Cancer and Alzheimers

Scientific studies conclude that the combined effect of cumin and turmeric helps to prevent cancer and protect against Alzheimer’s disease.

The medicinal and antioxidant properties of both prove to be exceptionally beneficial to boost memory and assist to stop the progression of tumor cells.

How to Make Curry Powder At Home?

One of the advantages of making a homemade curry powder is that you can include the world’s top 6 immune-boosting spices.

Making curry powder at home gives you the flexibility to choose your preferred spices and mix them in different measurements to get the best curry powder recipe.

Click here for an easy DIY  curry powder recipe that you can follow to make curry powder at home.

If you are not confident about making Curry powder at home, then you can easily buy Curry powder online.

My recommended brand and blend is from The Spice House for those who reside in the US. 

Click image to buy
curry powder online

Apart those above the Madras Curry powder from Raw Spice Bar has tied to make their brand as authentic with organic regional spices.

Curry powder spice blend buy International spices blends online
Click image to buy Curry Powder online

For EU residents I recommend the following blend.

Click image to buy curry powder online

To conclude

You may have gathered that I am not a great lover of curry powder.

In my personal opinion,  it undermines the immensity and depth of Indian cuisine by simply branding it under one name such as ‘curry’!

Indian food is complex with the use of many different spices which give each dish its distinctive flavour.

Hence each dish that you eat tastes different.

By simply adding a generic spice to most Indian dishes and calling it an Indian curry takes the uniqueness of the cuisine away.

Having said that, I still keep a pack in my spice drawer (ahem, ahem) as its one of those mixes that can be used to lift the flavour in any cuisine and not just limited to Indian.

Although curry powder is not an authentic or traditional Indian spice blend it has found its way into many modern-day Indian kitchens.

The convenience and ease of cooking with a pre-blended Indian curry powder mix make it easy to cook different types of dishes.

It is one of those spice blends that I absolutely recommend adding to your spice pantry and enjoy adding ethnic flair to your food!

Do you have spice blends that may not originate your country but have become commercially popular due to ease, comfort, and taste?

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1 year ago

I love this post, I’m always so fascinated about the history of food, thanks for sharing this!

Shwetha Shenoy
3 years ago

Fantastic post I must say. We prepare fresh curry powder every time we prepare with most of the spices which you have mentioned. I’m privileged to know some more ingredients which I can add in my curry powder.

tachira wiltshire
6 years ago

Thanks for the clarification. I use curry powder when seasoning my meats. I had no idea it had so many health benefits as well. I do mean the generic one sold in the supermarket here lol . I would love to give your recipe a try it sounds like it would provide a more complex flavour.

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