What Is Curry Powder?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Curry powder
Curry powder. Maximilian Stock Ltd. / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images

Curry powder is a mixture of spices that take on a yellow hue. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a staple ingredient in Indian cooking. Curry powder was created by the British to evoke the essence of Indian food and is not used in authentic Indian cooking. The confusion may be due to the fact that a popular Indian dish is called a "curry," but that term is referring to the dish itself, which is made up of a sauce or gravy along with meat and vegetables. The spice blend most often used in an Indian curry is garam masala.

A main ingredient in curry powder is turmeric. Other spices that can be incorporated into the spice blend include everything from ginger, cinnamon, garlic, and clove to mustard seed, black pepper, and fennel seed.

Fast Facts

Main Component: turmeric

Shelf Life: 3 to 4 years

Ways to Use It: not in Indian cuisine

Curry Powder vs. Garam Masala

Curry powder and garam masala are mixtures of various spices that bring both complex flavor and rich color to a dish. Curry powder's main ingredient is turmeric, which gives it that signature yellow tint but not a lot of taste. The blend's mild flavor is credited to spices like fenugreek and cumin, as well as coriander. The recipe for garam masala can vary by region, but is sweeter and more pungent than curry powder. The blend of spices typically incorporates cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, mace, and cloves, as well as coriander and cumin.

How to Cook With Curry Powder

Although curry powder is not meant for authentic Indian dishes, it still has a place in the spice drawer as it can add a unique taste to a variety of recipes. This spice blend benefits from being mixed with a liquid (like broth or coconut milk) or yogurt before adding it to the dish, which helps the flavors of the curry powder infuse into the other ingredients. Curry powder is also meant for slower cooked recipes, so it has time to release the flavors.

What Does It Taste Like?

Curry powder is a blend of both sweet and savory, creating a spice powder that is earthy and warm with a bit of brightness to it. The powder can range from mild to spicy, depending on the type and amount of pepper used; mild will list ginger and black pepper as ingredients, while chile peppers will signify a spicy blend.

Curry Powder Recipes

Use curry powder as a seasoning in soups, stews, and sauces, as well as in marinades for meat and vegetables. It also adds an interesting layer of flavor to chicken salad, hamburgers, and deviled eggs.

Where to Buy Curry Powder

Jars and containers of curry powder can be found in the spice section of most supermarkets. However, these types of spice blends do lose freshness and flavor as they sit on the shelves, so buying from a spice store or ethnic market will ensure a more lively curry powder blend. You can also make your own curry powder using a spice grinder or old coffee grinder.

Storage

Curry powder should be kept in a cool, dark place at room temperature. If you have purchased the spice blend in bulk, transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid, where it will last between 3 and 4 years. To test if the mixture is still fresh, smell and taste the powder; if the aroma is weak and the flavor barely there, then it is time to replace the curry powder.

Nutrition and Benefits

Since curry powder blends range in ingredients, the specific nutritional breakdown will vary. In general, the spice mixture is a good source of vitamin B6, manganese, iron, vitamins K and E, as well as fiber.

There are overall benefits that curry powder offers, especially since turmeric is a prevalent ingredient. The yellow powder is an antioxidant and has anti-inflammatory properties, and may improve symptoms of arthritis and depression. Turmeric has been shown to relieve joint pain and may help prevent heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease.