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Homemade Garam Masala

Homemade Garam Masala

This homemade garam masala recipe is from my family. It is an authentic garam masala recipe which has been adapted by my mom and I to make it allergy-safe for our household. 

Garam masala is a staple in South Asian cuisine and one that we can still enjoy as an alternative to garam masala purchased at the store.  Homemade garam masala recipe is the first in our Flavors of Culture series.

Finding a garam masala alternative in a new country

garam masala allergy friendly

My parents immigrated to the United States from Pakistan.  At nineteen, my mom found herself as a new bride living far away from her family, friends and culture.

My mom cooked our meals from scratch almost everyday.  Initially, she had a hard time sourcing Pakistani ingredients but somehow she was always able to throw a meal together. I fondly remember rushing home on cold Chicago winter days, opening the door to scents of spices and onions frying in a warm pan. 

Cooking became a way for my mom to preserve culture and connect to her distant home. The kitchen became her sanctuary.  In time, she found a community of friends where gatherings always centered around food.

If she couldn’t find an ingredient she needed to make garam masala, she became creative and looked for alternative spices that could do the job! For example, substituting green cardamom for black cardamom, using cloves instead of nutmeg or even adding orange zest for a twist of flavor.

To hear more about my story and Dr. G weigh in on spices and food allergies, check out this episode of The Itch Podcast.

Hidden allergens in food

When I was a child, I didn’t know anyone with food allergies.  Now, 2 in 13 children in a classroom are estimated to live with food allergies. 

As my daughter’s list of allergens grew, dining in South Asian restaurants became unsafe.  Peanuts or cashews are often ground into curries and used as garnishes but not listed on a menu. Sesame is used as a topping for naan. I’ve found that restaurants often don’t have consistent practices when it comes to serving customers with food allergies and there can be hidden allergens in food.

Garam Masala- Allergy friendly

What is Garam-Masala?

Garam Masala is a bled of aromatic whole spices, usually first toasted to maximize flavor and then ground. You’ll never find the same set of spices in garam masala because it varies based on family, region and personal preferences.

The word “masala” means spices and “garam” means “hot”. However garam masala is not typically spicy just full of flavor.

garam masala- allergy friendly

A garam masala alternative 

Sometimes store bought spice blends are tricky for people with food allergies. Up until recent U.S. labeling laws, sesame is now a top 9 food allergen. But before this, it was not always clear if sesame may be hidden under “natural flavors” or “spices” in a spice blend.

Although typically, nuts are not used in garam masala, I have found that blends may sometimes use ground nuts or sesame.  

This homemade garam masala recipe is a nut-free spice blend and an alternative to garam masala purchased in the store. It is also free from the most common allergens including sesame.

What is a good store bought garam masala substitute?

If you are weary of buying spice blends, stick to spices that have whole ingredients listed. Today there are options for purchasing reliably sourced nut-free spices to make your own homemade garam masala. I’ve included a few of our favorite spice brands in the recipe.

You can also just buy the spices separately and make your own blend. For a quick version, buy already ground spices and throw it together. You are going for flavor here so do what works for you!

Educating extended family about food allergies

My mom still enjoys cooking for us. Initially, she didn’t understand why we needed to be loyal to one brand of spices or that it wasn’t always safe for our family to purchase a spice blend.

My family eventually leaned in and listened to what we needed from them in order to keep our girl safe. We didn’t have to give up on the traditional foods from our culture because of food allergies. We’re still able to enjoy these foods with family and friends by planning ahead, researching products and getting creative in the kitchen.

How to make homemade garam masala

It is easy to learn how to make garam masala at home. This recipe is adaptable so if you are allergic to any of the spices or need a substitute for garam masala, use what you can eat!

ground garam masala allergy friendly

Garam Masala ingredients list

When making homemade garam masala, every household has their own recipe and uses different ingredients for garam masala. It is best to get out all of the garam masala powder ingredients ahead of time so making this batch will take no time at all.

How to make homemade garam masala

Cooking with your homemade garam masala recipe

Garam Masala can be used to season a variety of South Asian dishes such as dal; often added at the end of cooking but not always. You can use your homemade garam masala recipe as part of a marinade by mixing in with yogurt and lemon juice, sprinkle on popcorn or roasted chickpeas, top yogurt, soups and dips.

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Homemade Garam Masala

  • Author: Shahla Rashid
  • Total Time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 1 /2 cup
  • Diet: Vegan


Homemade Garam Masala can be used in dips, yogurt, sprinkle on top of popcorn, roasted chickpeas and more!  This homemade garam masala is nut-free (top 8 allergen free), sesame free and vegan. 


*All spices listed are for whole spices

What you will need: 


  • 3 tablespoon cumin seed

  • 3 tablespoon coriander seed

  • 1 tablespoon fennel seed

  • 1/2 tablespoon cloves

  • 11 green cardamom, with pods

  • 3 black cardamom (optional)

  • 1 stick cinnamon, broken into shards

  • 5 bay leaves, broken into pieces

  • 1 1/2 tablespoon black peppercorn

  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger


  1. Heat a dry skillet (no oil) over medium heat.
  2. Toast cumin, coriander, fennel, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon and black peppercorn for about 2-3 minutes or until fragrant. Adjust heat to low if spices are darkening too quickly.   Stir with a small spoon often to keep everything cooking evenly and to avoid burning spices.
  3. Immediately transfer toasted spices onto a plate or tray. Spices keep toasting if left in a warm pan.
  4. Let cool for a few minutes.
  5. Pour in toasted spices to a spice grinder. Add bay leaves and ground ginger.  You may have to grind in two batches depending on the size of your spice grinder. Blend until finely ground.
  6. Store in an airtight container such as a mason jar in a dark place like a cupboard or drawer.


  • We like whole spices from Spicely Organics and ground spices from Simply Organic. Please check ingredients and labels to make sure it’s safe for you.
  • Ground spices lose flavor quick, best used within three months. Roast and grind in small batches. 
  • If allergic to any of the above spices; omit or replace with alternative whole spices that are safe for you. 
  • Keep in cool dark, place away from light and heat, like a cupboard.
  • Prep Time: 10 minutes
  • Cook Time: 10 minutes
  • Category: Spice
  • Method: No-Bake
  • Cuisine: South Asian


  • Serving Size: 1/2 cup

More Flavors of Culture Recipes

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