What Is Curry Powder?

A Guide to Buying, Cooking With, and Storing Curry Powder

A square white dish and spoon filled with curry powder

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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 come from a popular Indian dish known as "curry," but that term refers not to the spice blend but 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.

One of the main ingredients in curry powder is turmeric. Other spices that can be incorporated include everything from ginger, cinnamon, garlic, and cloves to mustard seed, black pepper, and fennel seed.

Fast Facts

Main component: turmeric

Shelf life: three to four years

Ways to use it: seasoning for soups, sauces, and marinades, but 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 such as 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.

Curry Powder Uses

Although curry powder is not meant for traditional Indian dishes, it still has a place in the spice drawer as it can add a unique taste to a variety of recipes. Curry powder can be used to season roasted vegetables, pureed soups, hummus, egg salad, and even popcorn. It will give an ordinary recipe a touch of warmth and depth.

Close-up of curry powder in a wooden spoon on a table
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Close up of Malaysia curry noodles
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Chicken curry in a blue bowl
Mariha-kitchen / Getty Images
Curry chicken salad sandwich
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Curry with pea and potato with rice bowl, dal, naan bread, and spices.
Alexandre Morin-Laprise / Getty Images

How to Cook With Curry Powder

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 combines both sweet and savory elements, 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 a 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 specialty market specializing in Indian cuisine, for example, should ensure a more lively curry powder blend. You can also make your own curry powder using a spice grinder or old coffee grinder.


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 for three to four years. To test if the mixture is still fresh, smell and taste the powder; if the aroma is weak and the flavor barely there, it is time to replace it.