Garam masala, pronounced gah-RAHM mah-SAH-lah, is a mix of ground, typically dry-roasted spices native to India. Garam is actually Indian for “warm” or “hot,” which is perfect since garam masala is known for creating a warmth both internally and externally. What is masala? Masala is Hindi for “spice.” It’s used to describe any of the various spice mixes used in Indian cuisine. In addition to India, this warm spice mix is also commonly used in Nepal, Pakistan and other South Asian cuisines.
Our traditional recipe contains black peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, mace and cumin. Other common ingredients include fennel, coriander and bay leaves. They’re all carefully combined and blended for a balanced flavor, which is warming and somewhat sweet but totally sugar-free.
Garam masala can be made by dry roasting the spices and then grinding them into a powder, or it can be made without dry roasting. When ground, the garam masala spices are gently heated until they release their aroma and then they’re ground together into a powder to be used mainly as a finishing spice. When used whole, these spices are called khada masala and are added to hot oil to release their flavors before other recipe ingredients are added.
Some say garam masala originated in Northern India where the winters are cold. The idea for curry powder, which started being commercially made in the 1780s, was likely inspired by this mix of spices. Curry powder made it quicker and less costly to flavor traditional Indian dishes. Garam masala also has a long history in traditional Ayurvedic medicine.
Benefits of Garam Masala
1. Improves Digestive Fire
According to Ayurvedic medicine, garam masala is properly named for its ability to heat up the body or improve digestive fire. The foundation of this 5,000-year-old system of natural healing is agni or digestive fire. According to Ayurveda, you need to provide your body with the right type and amount of warming foods to maintain optimal digestive fire.
Garam masala is said to do this by increasing the consumer’s body temperature and consequently raising metabolism as well. This prevents sluggish digestion and the build of of toxins in the body that result from digestive fire not being ideal. Garam masala also brings all the six rasas (tastes) into a dish to promote a balancing effect on the consumer.
2. Wards Off Constipation
Since garam masala improves digestion, it’s not surprising that it’s also been shown to decrease digestive transit time, which is excellent for decreasing the likelihood of constipation. This is hugely important to our health since constipation is one of the main ways that our bodies naturally detoxify on a regular basis.
According to a small study published in the journal Tropical Gastroenterology, consumption of garam masala led to a faster digestive transit time in well-nourished, healthy human adult volunteers. Meanwhile, consumption of a spice-free meal was associated with a tendency toward a slower gastrocolic transit.
3. Cancer Preventer
In general, spices are associated with cancer prevention. One study specifically looked at garam masala and the possibility of it being a natural anticancer substance. This study, published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer, evaluated the effects of garam masala intake on animals for just 10 days. The researchers found that its consumption led to a significant and dose-dependent desirable change in the levels of detoxification system enzymes. These findings suggest that garam masala acts as a natural cancer preventative agent by encouraging bodily detoxification.
Animal research has also shown a reduction in tumors as a result of consuming garam masala. This is not that surprising, since many of the spices that make up this mixture are cancer-fighting foods themselves.
4. Fights Diabetes
Pretty much every garam masala contains cinnamon, a true super spice. The health benefits of cinnamon are scientifically proven to be numerous. Cinnamon’s ability to help ward off diabetes and naturally lower blood sugar in diabetics is really impressive. Multiple scientific studies have demonstrated cinnamon’s potential ability to help lower blood sugar levels. In addition, it also may likely improve sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which is the vital hormone needed for keeping blood sugar levels balanced.
5. Overall Health Booster
In addition to being an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, antimicrobial, anticancer, lipid-lowering and cardiovascular disease-lowering compound, cinnamon has also been reported to have activities against serious neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease. But cinnamon isn’t the only star in this concoction.
Garam masala always contains a mixture of spices, sometimes 10 or maybe even 30. No matter what ingredients are used, consuming it gives you instant access to the health benefits of each and every spice used to create the magical mixture. In addition to cinnamon, we’re talking about seriously health-promoting spices like cardamom, cloves and cumin, just to name a few of the likely ingredients.
So keep eating your fruits and vegetables, but don’t forget about the small but mighty spices (and herbs) that you should ideally incorporate into your diet daily. I love how garam masala makes it so easy to consume so many different spices in a single meal or snack.
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