In truth, there is no such thing as ‘authentic’ curry powder. The curry powder bought in your local grocery store’s spice aisle is usually a blend of several different spices. There is no denying the convenience of this mix, however.
If you do see that your jar of curry powder is empty, you can easily find an alternative. Substitutes for curry powder can be whipped up by mixing together some of the spices that are already used to make it. You can also find other spice blends or different pastes to work instead.
The best substitutes for curry powder are blends of spices such as turmeric (What Does Turmeric Taste Like?), coriander, cumin, and fenugreek. Other applicable stand-ins are garam masala, a blend of cumin and allspice, chaat masala, or curry paste.
Substitutes for Curry Powder
What is Curry Powder?
Of course, if you’re looking for a replacement, you already know what curry powder is on a surface level. Dissecting the spice a bit more, though, will help demystify the best alternatives you can use the next time you’re craving chickpea curry.
Curry powder is a spice blend, as there is no single authentic Indian spice that is used in curries. That’s because ‘curry’ is a western coinage that refers to any dish of rice and meat served in a sauce. These dishes will be made with an array of fragrant spices, and thus can’t be captured in just one blend.
The most common ingredients in curry powder are turmeric, cumin, chili powder, ginger, and possibly curry leaf. Curry leaves come from a tree native to India. They’re used in many more recipes than just what we think of as curry. Every brand of curry powder will have its own list of ingredients, and many may also include fillers and preservatives.
Curry powder was conceived to be a ‘ready-made’ ingredient to add a sense of ease to the process of making curry. It was sold by merchants in India to British traders as far back as the 18th century. British traders would later bring this blend to Japan during the Meiji era, which is why we have Japanese curry today.
Make Your Own Blend
The best way to replicate curry powder is to accumulate the spices yourself and combine them. You can do this by simply shaking each component into your recipe and tasting it as you go along. Or, to save yourself the grief next time, you can mix greater quantities together in bulk and store it in a jar for later use.
For a basic curry powder, the main spices you will want to include are:
- Turmeric. Most commercial curry powders contain turmeric, which is why it commonly has a bright yellow hue. Turmeric is warm and complex in flavor, but you will want to lean into this spice heavily.
- Ginger. You can grind fresh ginger or use a dried or powdered variety. Ginger adds tang and heat to your curry powder replacement.
- Cumin. Cumin is where more of the spice and familiar aroma come from in curry powder blends. The flavor is almost sour, and rather earthy.
- Coriander. Coriander is a divisive herb. If you are in the camp of people who dislike it, you can leave it out of your mix. The taste of coriander is fresh and citrusy, and it has a lovely aroma.
However, there is always room for experimentation. Consider other spices to make your blend personalized and unique:
- Chili powder
- Garlic powder
There are infinite ways to make your own curry powder. This is perfect if you are in need of a replacement, as everything you could want is right at your fingertips.
Though, you might not always have full access to a broad blend of spices at any given moment. There are other alternatives to curry powder for those with a smaller spice rack. For example, you can combine just cumin and allspice, or just turmeric and chili powder.
Why not substitute one spice blend for another? Garam masala is made of similar ingredients to curry powder, and originates from India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka. You can use it just as you would use curry powder in salads, stews, chicken divan, or of course, curry.
The spices in garam masala are often toasted first, before being ground together into one place. Some of the spices you’ll usually find in garam masala are:
- Black peppercorns
- Red chili powder
As you can see, there is some overlap here between garam masala and curry powder. That overlap of flavors is what makes it such a good replacement for curry powder. It might be harder to get your hands on, so if you’re unable to snag some, try checking at a specialty store. Of course, you can also make your own.
You can use garam masala as a substitute for curry powder at a 1:1 ratio. Keep in mind that your recipe might taste different, and that garam masala tends to be more pungent than curry powder.
The ideal use of garam masala as a replacement for curry powder is in soup, where it can boost the flavors of the ingredients around it. In most Indian cooking, garam masala is applied after the dish is cooked. It keeps the strong, aromatic scent of the food, making it a perfect addition.
Curry paste is usually sold in tubes. It is made of concentrated curry, chiles, aromatics, and spices. Typically, curry paste is intended for yellow Thai curry, but it can still be used in many of the same applications as curry powder.
Bear in mind, it is going to be more on the spicy side, and it will bring moisture to your dish. Keep the moisture factor in mind if you’re going to be baking a savory bread.
If you don’t have curry paste to replace curry powder, and don’t mind some extra steps, you can make your own.
- Place ginger, shallots, and garlic onto a cooking sheet. Wrap all of these in tinfoil and seal them into packet-like shapes.
- Set them in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake for about 15 minutes. Remove the ginger and cook the shallots and garlic for another 30 minutes at 400.
- Put your roasted aromatics into a food processor with Thai chilis, salt, turmeric, cumin, coriander, cilantro, and lemongrass paste.
- Process the ingredients until they’re well blended together, forming a paste.
The number of chilis you add into your paste will, of course, make it spicier. If you’re looking for a closer approximation to curry powder, only use 4-5 chilis.
Chaat masala is a boon for anyone who needs a substitute for curry powder and prefers a sweeter curry. It is also a spice mix, like curry powder and garam masala, and it shares some similarities. It contains cumin, coriander, and ginger, just like curry powder does.
The main ingreedient in chaat masala is amchoor. Amchoor is dried mango powder, and it’s what gives chaat masala a distinctive sweet taste. The sweetness isn’t totally without heat, though; chaat masala is also made with chili powder and black pepper. It’s a sweet, spicy, and savory replacement for curry powder that is welcome in any recipe you might use it in.
Chaat masala is best used as a curry powder substitute in recipes like naan bread, soup, stew, or on meat as a marinade.
The popular star of tandoori chicken, tandoori masala is common in Pakistani and Punjabi cooking, and for good reason. The flavors of tandoori masala are spicy, tangy, and savory. It is a pungent spice that has a similar flavor profile to curry powder.
Because it is typically spicier than curry powder, take care when using it as a substitute. Taste as you go, and consider halving the amount of it that you use. If you add too much, you might overwhelm the flavors of your dish.
Sambar powder is another Indian spice blend that will do wonders in your curries or stews. Along with the usual curry powder ingredients, it contains mustard seeds, peppercorns, fenugreek, cinnamon, and other pungent spices. It’s excellent in savory bread, or over fish.
Sambar powder is spicier than curry powder. Taste your cooking as you go if you are using it as an alternative to curry powder to find out when you’ve added just enough. Citrus will also cut down on the pungency of the dish.
Can I Substitute Turmeric For Curry Powder?
If you don’t have many spices at your disposal, but still want to add flavor to your curry, soup, or sauce, you can substitute turmeric for curry powder. Turmeric alone will not be as fragrant, strong, or spicy as curry powder. It will still give your dish some lovely yellow coloration, though.
If you can, try to buff up the flavor of your turmeric with any of the spices mentioned here, such as cumin, paprika, coriander, chili powder, or even cinnamon. Allspice could also provide some much needed spice and complexity.
Can I Substitute Paprika For Curry Powder?
Paprika can bring a needed spiciness and color to a dish you’d normally prepare with curry powder, and it can act as a substitute in a pinch. It will definitely not taste exactly the same, and you might find the end result a bit bland or one-note if you are making curry.
Curry powder is a flavorful blend of spicy and savory flavors that is perfect for use in soups, naan bread, stews, over meats, or of course, in curry. However, it is easy to replace if you find that you’re in short supply.
Curry powder can be made with a mixture of spices, especially cumin, coriander, ginger, and turmeric. You can also use curry paste, garam masala, chaat masala, tandoori masala, or sambar powder. Experiment with your flavors and taste profiles, and make sure to taste as you cook.