Garam Masala means “Hot spice blend” in Hindi but contrary to its name it is not spicy. The word “Garam ” i.e. hot refers to the body warming nature of the spices used and not its spiciness. The spices used in garam masala impart an earthy, sweet flavor along with a little bit of heat that comes from the use of black peppercorns.
The heat of garam masala is different from the heat of chilies and is more warm and earthy.
Does garam masala have chili in it?
No, the standard recipe of garam masala does not use chilli but the spices listed below, However, every Indian household tends to have their own version of garam masala spice blend so its always better to check with the chef/cook or if using ready made garam masala then the ingredients list.
The spiciness of most Indian masalas or spice blends comes from the use of chili but chili is not used in garam masala. This is the reason why the blend is not spicy.
The spices generally used in Garam masala are:-
Mace – is derived from the layers that cover the nutmeg seed and it has a warm, woody and sweet flavor.
Cinnamon – is the dried inner stem bark of Cinnamomum Verum. It has a sweet, aromatic and warm flavor.
Coriander – it forms the base of most spice blends and adds volume to them. Its flavor profile is citrus, floral and warming.
Cumin – it along with coriander forms the base of the masala. It has an earthy, woody flavor.
Black Cardamom – It has a smoky, camphorous flavor and is used in very little quantities.
Green Cardamom – It is the aromatic spice of the blend and it also imparts a citrusy, floral flavor.
Bay Leaf – Adds a herbal floral aroma to the spice blend.
Black Pepper – has a hot, spicy and citrusy flavor and is the only spice in the garam masala blend that adds heat to it.
We have just listed the flavor profile of all the spices used in the garam masala spice blend. None of them have a hot or spicy flavor profile, except Black pepper.
Black pepper adds some heat to the garam masala spice blend but because it is used in very less proportions it does not make garam masala spicy.
The primary flavor profile of garam masala remains earthy and aromatic with little heat. It is the main flavor of all the other spices used to make the spice blend.
If you want to make garam masala and looking for the right proportion that the spices should be mixed in then you can refer here.