Garam masala is an exceptionally popular spice in Indian cooking, primarily for the flavor that it confers. But, that’s not all. Instead, there are also significant garam masala benefits for health.
The potential for improving your health makes the spice that much more interesting.
But, before we get into those benefits, let’s take a look at precisely what garam masala is and why it’s worth using.
What is Garam Masala?
Garam masala is often called a spice but that isn’t entirely accurate. Instead, garam masala is a collection of spices. As such, it can be considered a spice mixture or, more commonly, a spice blend.
The exact number of spices varies depending on who is making it. For example, there can sometimes be around 10 different spices all the way up to 30 or more in the final mixture. Some brands also use the number 32, although other products could have fewer (or even more) ingredients.
Some of the spices that are used include coriander, cardamom, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cinnamon and cumin, along with many others.
Traditionally, garam masala involves the spices and seeds being toasted, ground and then combined (1). However, in some cases, ground spices may simply be mixed without any toasting.
This latter practice is most common when people are making a version of the spice themselves out of ingredients that they may already have.
The appeal of garam masala is in the flavor profile.
With so many different individual ingredients, garam masala creates a unique taste and is an amazing way of enriching a meal.
This doesn’t just apply to Indian dishes either. Instead, you might use the spice in western-style foods as well.
Now, it is important to note that there is no ‘correct’ way to make garam masala. As a result, individual blends will vary from one another considerably, especially in the proportions of ingredients that they use.
Still, the health benefits of the spice blend should often be similar, especially as many of the base spices will be the same, regardless of which specific product you use.
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Impacts and Benefits of the Spice Blend
Garam masala is often known as a warming spice blend and many people find that it has precisely this effect. This means that it seems to increase your internal temperature – but not in an uncomfortable way.
The warming effect is thought to offer some benefits, as it may contribute to improved digestion. Garam masala is also specifically associated with a number of health benefits, many of which are connected to the ingredients.
After all, spices have a long history of being used in traditional medicine and many are directly associated with health benefits. For example, garam masala traditionally contains cinnamon and black peppercorns, both of which are connected to significant health benefits.
So, let’s take a look at the reasons to consider garam masala in your diet.
For garam masala, the most well-known health benefit would be the impact on digestion. This is strongly connected to the warming effect that it has, with many people saying that warming foods contribute to improved digestion.
There is also some suggestion that garam masala may help to increase the metabolism through this effect. Doing so could also promote health.
Such an effect isn’t likely to be limited to garam masala. Instead, many spices have a warming effect and could offer similar benefits to health. For that matter, garam masala isn’t a single spice anyway and it’s likely that the benefits come from multiple individual components.
The connection between digestion and constipation is a logical one, and many foods or supplements that improve digestion will also decrease the risk of constipation.
Research also suggests that spices may play a key role in doing just this. For example, one study showed that a meal containing garam masala resulted in a faster gut transit time than meals that did not (2).
However, that research was preliminary and the results observed were just trends, rather than being statistically significant. This means that much more evidence is needed to prove the effect of garam masala on constipation or on digestion.
Improves Overall Health
Garam masala can impact health in a number of ways, especially as it is both an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent. Additionally, some of the spices in the blend are associated with health benefits in their own right.
It’s also likely that there are many more benefits associated with the individual spices and with garam masala itself.
After all, research into herbs and spices is often slow and there is much that we don’t know.
Indeed, some experts claim that spices are often underused and that one of the simplest ways to improve health is to consume more of them (3).
May Help Reduce Cancer Risk
Spices themselves are often associated with a decrease in cancer risk. Likewise, some early research has indicated that garam masala itself may help to change the levels of specific enzymes (4). That pattern could theoretically result in a reduction of cancer risk.
Animal research has also suggested that garam masala could help to prevent the development of tumors (5).
However, the research studies here are not recent and they are limited in scope. Certainly, none prove any specific benefits in humans. However, they do suggest the potential for an anti-cancer effect and that potential is still appealing.
Cancer research is a challenging topic at the best of times. Realistically, we still know relatively little about how to treat cancer or how to decrease risk. Furthermore, the research itself is challenging to do, which is partly why solutions have been so hard to find.
When it comes to garam masala, there isn’t enough evidence to know whether or not it has any noticeable effect on cancer risk. But, including it in your diet regularly is still likely to offer some health benefits.
For that matter, it seems likely that relying on a wide range of plant-based foods as part of your diet would play a key role in decreasing cancer risk. If nothing else, doing so would contribute to better health overall.
Implications for Health
There are significant benefits associated with garam masala. But, for the most part, these aren’t supported by research.
Such an outcome isn’t too surprising, as research into herbs and spices is often relatively limited, often because the funding just isn’t there.
Additionally, garam masala is a combination of different spices that can vary considerably. This would make research more difficult still.
Nevertheless, even without scientific evidence, garam masala is likely to have some implications for health. After all, spices have long been used in traditional medicine and many do have significant implications for health.
So, it isn’t unreasonable to expect health benefits from garam masala.
For that matter, the spice blend may be a great way to increase the range of spices that you take in. As with superfoods and fermented foods, getting a variety of options in your diet is one of the best approaches that you can take for health.
Finally, many people do feel that spices like garam masala help with their health and they may have had positive experiences. This pattern may not prove that health benefits exist but it does offer a strong indication and could be reason enough to include garam masala in your diet.
Reactions and Side Effects
For the most part, garam masala is considered safe. Indeed, the spice blend has a long history in traditional foods and continues to be used regularly today. The same is true for the individual spices that are present in it.
However, as with any dietary component, there is some potential for risk.
In particular, you could be allergic to some of the spices. If this is the case, you would need to read the ingredients label carefully and make sure all of the ingredients are safe for you.
Additionally, garam masala is spicy. For this reason alone, some people may experience side effects, especially if they’re not used to spicy foods. Those side effects aren’t likely to cause long-term harm (or even short-term harm, for that matter).
Nevertheless, they can be uncomfortable, so this is something to be aware of.
It’s also important to choose a reliable brand. Like supplements, herbs and spices aren’t tightly regulated. Because of this, there can sometimes be contaminants or you may not be getting what you pay for.
Picking a good brand is the best way to reduce the risk and ensure that the spice blend is safe and authentic.
Using Garam Masala
This spice blend is a common ingredient in cooking, particularly if you are making Indian curries. For that matter, doing so would also let you take advantage of turmeric, which is another key spice that offers health benefits.
Of course, garam masala isn’t just restricted to curries or to Indian dishes. Instead, there are many other uses for it.
For example, the list below is a short example of foods where you can include garam masala and there are countless others as well.
- Popcorn (sprinkled on top)
- Baked potatoes
- Hash browns
- Butternut squash
- Green beans
- Gingerbread cookies
Many options will also let you take advantage of other ingredients that can offer health benefits. For example, ginger may be particularly powerful for health, even though it is often underestimated. Another option is garlic, which is sometimes viewed as a superfood.
Buying or Making Garam Masala
There is no single way to make garam masala. As a result, the spice blend will differ from one brand to the next. Often, companies may use the same ingredients but different proportions.
For that matter, a similar pattern occurs in India as well. So, different regions and families will often have their own distinctive mixes of the spice blend.
Because of these variations, customers often have favorite brands for garam masala and find that some products simply taste better than others.
Figuring out which brand you like may be a matter of trial and error. There are many good products out there but people do vary in the flavors that they enjoy.
As the spice blend can have 30 or more ingredients, it isn’t realistic to make the blend at home.
However, there are some recipes that create a close approximation to the flavors, while still being relatively simple. This can be achieved because some individual spices contribute much more to the flavor profile than others.
For example, one such recipe involves the use of the following ingredients (you can find the proportions here):
- Coriander seeds
- Cumin seeds
- Cardamon seeds
- Black peppercorns
- Fennel seed
- Mustard seed
- Whole cloves
- Dried red chile peppers
In terms of flavor, making a version of the spice blend yourself can be a good choice.
For that matter, doing so may even be cheaper than buying garam masala itself, especially if you already have most of the ingredients at hand.
However, you may not get the same benefits if you make the blend rather than buying it. After all, the homemade version has fewer spices and the individual spices are what offer the health benefits.
If nothing else, it may be worth trying a pre-made version of garam masala first. This may help you determine whether you like the flavor profile and what benefits it offers you personally.
There is a range of great brands out there to choose from, including many individual products that get consistently good reviews.
So, try it out, and let me know whether garam masala ends up being a good addition to your diet.
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