Curry and Masala are both very popular components of Indian cooking. These can be very confusing for people who are new to Indian cuisine and to differentiate one from the other.
In simple terms we can say that “Masala is used to make curry”. Masala refers to spice blends that are added to hot oil during the curry making process. The masala used in the curry is responsible for the flavors of that curry.
What is Masala?
Masala is used in multiple context in Indian cooking:-
1. Masala as spice blend
The spice blends used in cooking Indian dishes are referred to as Masalas.
There are many spice blends used in Indian cooking like garam masala, sambar masala etc. These spice blends can be whole or grounded and may be specific for a dish or generic.
For example: Sambar Masala is a spice blend of lentils and spices that are roasted and grounded to make it. It is used only for making a specific Indian dish i.e. Sambar. Whereas garam masala is a spice blend which is very generic and is used in lot of Indian dishes.
2. Masala as a suffix in curry names
In Indian Restaurants many curries have Masala used at the end of their name like Chicken Tikka Masala or Paneer Butter Masala or Rajma Masala. This “Masala” appended to the name of the dish does not really say much about the flavors of the dish. It is just a preference or naming choice that the restaurant has made. The flavors or spiciness of the dish has nothing to do with the naming convention.
3. Masala as the Curry Base
When making a curry the aromatics and spices are cooked well in the hot oil until oil separates. This is done so that all the spices release their flavors and the aromatics are well cooked. These ingredients form the curry base and impart flavor to the dish. The curry base will all the aromatics and spices is also called Masala in Indian cooking.
Masala can be used in different contexts as specified above.
What is Curry?
Curry is an Indian sauce with its key flavors being derived from spices and aromatics being cooked at high temperature in oil.
The commonly used spices in a curry are turmeric, cumin, chili, coriander, black pepper, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon stick.
The term ‘Curry’ was coined by the British as there is no dish in Indian cuisine known as Curry. Curry is a generic term used to refer to any Indian dish that has meat or vegetables in it, has been cooked in spices and has a semi liquid consistency.
It can be eaten with rice or bread like naan, chapati.
Some of the famous Indian curries are Chicken Tikka Masala, Butter Chicken, Shahi Paneer.
Difference between Curry and Masala?
We can say that “Masala is used to make Curry”.
When making a curry the first step is to heat oil and add some aromatics along with masala
|Looks like a gravy with cooked vegetables or meat in it.
|Powdered or whole spices
|Gets the flavors from the masala(spices/spice blends)used in making it. Can be spicy or mild depending on the amount of masala used in it.
|Derive the flavor from the spices used in it. It is spicy as it consists of spices that are blended together to form a powder.
|Can be eaten with rice or breads like chapati and naan
|Cannot be eaten raw
|Can be stored for 3-5 days in the fridge.
|Can be stored for months as its powdered spices and has much longer shelf life.