This allergy-friendly Garam Masala is a family recipe which has been adapted by my mom and I to make it safe for our household.
Garam masala is a staple in South Asian cuisine and one that we can still enjoy at home even if we can’t purchase a store bought blend. Allergy-friendly Garam Masala is the first recipe in our Flavors of Culture series.
A story about new beginnings
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 Pakastani 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.
Hidden allergens in foods
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.
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.
Are there nuts in garam masala?
Sometimes store bought spice blends are tricky for people with food allergies because labeling is not always clear. In the United States, it is not required to label food as allergens outside of the top 8 allergens, like sesame.
I have found that blends may sometimes use ground nuts or sesame. My daughter has a sesame allergy which can be hidden under the term “spices”. Although typically, nuts are not used in garam masala, every household has their own recipe and uses different ingredients when making garam masala.
This Garam Masala is a nut-free spice blend which is also free from the most common allergens including sesame.
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.
Finding allergy-friendly spices to make garam masala
Today there are options for purchasing reliably sourced nut-free spices to make your own homemade batch of garam masala. I’ve included a few of our favorite spice brands in the notes section below.
Cooking with allergy-friendly garam masala
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 it as part of a marinade by mixing in with yogurt and lemon juice, sprinkle on popcorn or roasted chickpeas, top yogurt, soups and dips.
For more on storing spices, check out this guide.
I’ll be sharing how to use this allergy-friendly garam masala soon, as part of our Flavors of Culture series.Print
Allergy-Friendly Garam Masala can be used in dips, yogurt, sprinkle on top of popcorn, roasted chickpeas and more! Garam Masala is nut-free (top 8 allergen free), sesame free and vegan.
*All spices listed are for whole spices
What you will need:
a heavy bottom skillet
spice grinder or coffee grinder dedicated for spices only.
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
- Heat a dry skillet (no oil) over medium heat.
- 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.
- Immediately transfer toasted spices onto a plate or tray. Spices keep toasting if left in a warm pan.
- Let cool for a few minutes.
- 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.
- 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.
- Category: Spice
- Method: No-Bake
- Cuisine: South Asian
- Serving Size: 1/2 cup
Keywords: garam masala, allergy friendly, spices, allergy friendly spices, nut-free spices
Favorite Kitchen tools to make Garam Masala
ChefSofi Mortar and Pestle SetSale Product on sale
OXO Good Grips Measuring Spoons$9.99
Stainless Steel Round Spices Box Kitchen Masala Dabba$31.99
More Flavors of Culture Recipes
Shahla is a mom of two girls who live with environmental allergies such as asthma and eczema. Their food allergies include tree nuts, peanuts, sesame and other seeds. Shahla is trained as a Natural Chef who wants to share the comfort that cooking has brought her family. She believes that everyone, regardless of dietary requirements, deserves a plate full of color and flavor.