Curry is a dinner favourite for households around the world, and mine is no different. The fiery Madras curry powder blend is just one of many types of curry powder available in grocery stores today.
The spice blend originates from South India and is known for its bold, spicy flavour.
You can buy pre-made Madras curry powder in the grocery store. But, I like to make my own delicious curry powder blend at home. The smell of toasting spices and the freshest, most flavourful Madras curry powder is undoubtedly worth the minimal effort it takes to make.
However, if you find yourself without Madras curry powder or its ingredients, this post also covers the best Madras curry powder substitutes. A good substitute can give you that same delicious flavour in your next curry – without a trip to the grocery store!
What is Madras curry powder?
Madras curry powder is a blend of spices used in Indian cuisine. It is most common in the southern region of India, including the city of Madras (now Chennai), where the fragrant spice mix gets its name.
The curry powder has a deep orange colour. And it typically includes spices like coriander, cumin, turmeric, mustard seeds, fenugreek, cayenne pepper, and more. This blend of spices gives Madras curry powder a distinctive spicy, earthy and slightly sweet flavour.
Madras curry powder also contains chilli pepper and is fairly hot.
Use the spice mix for curries, marinades, and spice rubs for meat, fish, and vegetables.
As with other regional Indian recipes, many variations of Madras curry exist. The hot curry sauce has a dark orange colour with flavours of earthy spices, the sour-sweet fruitiness of tamarind, and lots of heat. And cooling raita often accompanies the spicy Indian dish.
Madras curry powder ingredients
Typical Madras curry powder ingredients vary across brands and recipes. But some common ingredients in shop-bought Madras curry powder include:
- black peppercorns
- cayenne pepper (or red pepper flakes)
- cinnamon (or cassia)
How to make Madras curry powder from whole spices?
Toast whole spices in a dry skillet over medium heat for roughly three minutes.
Use three tablespoons of coriander, two tablespoons of cumin, two tablespoons of mustard, and two tablespoons of fenugreek seeds. Or adjust the mixture of spices to your personal preference.
Then transfer the toasted seeds to a spice grinder, along with a tablespoon of black peppercorns. Grind the toasted spices into a fine powder.
Then stir in spice powders. Try a tablespoon of turmeric powder, cayenne pepper and cinnamon.
See the recipe card for the full Madras curry powder recipe.
The best substitutes for Madras curry powder
You can make your own Madras curry powder at home. All you need is a well-stocked spice rack, a spice grinder – you can also use a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle – and this Madras curry powder recipe. But, if this is not you, we’ve got you covered.
Make a great substitute for Madras curry powder from ground spices, or try one of the shop-bought spice blend alternatives. Grocery stores stock a wide variety of curry powder blends. Keep reading to find the best alternatives, or jump to the option that interests you:
- Madras curry powder substitute from ground spices
- Tandoori masala
- Hot curry powder
- Garam masala
- Tikka masala curry powder
- Sambar powder
1. Madras curry powder substitute from ground spices
If you don’t have a spice grinder to make your own Madras curry powder, this blend of ground spices is the best Madras curry powder substitute.
Mix these ground spices (or as many as you have) for an easy Madras curry powder substitute:
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon yellow mustard powder
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder (or onion powder)
- ½ to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- a pinch of ground cloves
This fragrant spice mix makes about four tablespoons of curry powder substitute.
Store any leftover spice mixture in an airtight container in a dark cupboard. It will last for a few months – depending on the freshness of your ground spices.
2. Tandoori masala
Tandoori masala (or tandoori sauce) is a spice blend intended for Indian dishes cooked in a tandoor (a special clay oven), like tandoori chicken. The exact mixture of spices varies across regions but generally includes coriander, cumin, garlic powder, ginger, cloves, mace, fenugreek, cinnamon, black pepper, cardamom, and nutmeg.
As with shop-bought Madras curry powder, tandoori masala can contain the garam masala spice blend.
Tandoori masala is earthy and spicy. And it makes a great substitute for hot Madras curry powder. Use it as a direct substitute.
3. Hot curry powder
Hot curry powder is a good substitute to replicate the heat of Madras curry powder. This spice blend typically includes cumin, coriander, turmeric, ginger, fenugreek, and cayenne pepper.
It has a similar heat level to Madras curry powder, but the flavour may not be as complex. Add some additional spices like mustard or ground seeds to enhance the flavour.
You can also use regular curry powder with extra chilli powder to boost the heat. Add cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, or fresh red chilli pepper (whole or finely sliced) directly to your dish. Start with small amounts of chilli and increase the heat after tasting.
4. Garam masala
Garam masala is a spice blend commonly used in Indian cuisine. The spice mix includes a variety of spices, toasted and ground – such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin, fennel seeds and star anise. It has a warm, aromatic flavour that is slightly sweet.
While garam masala is not hot like Madras curry powder, it has a similar flavour profile. Use it in the same proportion as Madras curry powder for an excellent non-spicy Madras curry powder alternative if you want milder curries.
Or, add a pinch of cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes for heat. And add some turmeric to taste if your curry lacks the orange colour of Madras curry.
5. Tikka masala
Tikka masala curry powder is another good substitute for Madras curry powder. It includes spices like cumin, coriander, paprika, turmeric, and cayenne pepper. It has a mild to medium level of heat and a sweet, smoky flavour.
The exact origin of the popular Chicken tikka masala dish is uncertain. But it was most likely popularised by Indian cooks in Great Britain. Therefore, the spice blend is a British blend of Indian spices.
You can increase the heat by adding more cayenne pepper or red pepper flakes for a hot Madras curry. Or use it as a direct substitute for a milder curry.
6. Sambar powder
Sambar powder is an essential ingredient in South Indian cuisine made from various toasted Indian spices like coriander, fenugreek, mustard seeds, curry leaves and different types of dal. The dal (dried split pulses like lentils and yellow peas) gives sambar powder a more earthy flavour.
Each region, family and household can have their own unique variation of this spice blend.
While sambar powder and Madras curry powder both originate from South India and share some common ingredients, they have very different flavour profiles.
But you can use sambar powder as an alternative to Madras curry powder if it’s all you have. Just keep in mind that the flavour of your finished dish will be quite different.
Start with a smaller amount of sambar powder than the Madras curry powder called for in the recipe. Then adjust the flavour to taste. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper, some ground cumin and turmeric for a closer flavour match.
Don’t use chaat masala as a substitute for curry powder
You might think that because garam masala is on the list of the best substitutes, chaat masala will also work. But chaat masala is not a good Madras curry powder substitute in cooking.
The word masala refers to any ground spice mixture. Chaat masala and garam masala are both Indian spice blends, but they are not the same. They have completely different flavour profiles.
Chaat masala is tart and pungent. It contains amchoor (dried mango powder), cumin, coriander, ground ginger, salt (often the sulphuric black salt called kala namak), black pepper, asafoetida, and chilli powder.
Whereas garam masala has warm, earthy spices with a slightly sweet flavour thanks to cinnamon, star anise and more spices.
Want a seasoning blend to sprinkle over fresh fruit and other snacks? Chaat masala is your mix. But don’t use chaat masala as a substitute in Madras curry. It is not a good curry powder substitute for savoury dishes.
How to make Madras curry paste
You can make homemade Madras curry paste by mixing Madras curry powder with water and cooking oil.
For one tablespoon curry paste, mix:
- 1 teaspoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon water
- 1 teaspoon cooking oil
Frequently asked questions
No, they are not the same. Madras curry powder is common in Southern Indian cuisine and typically contains a mixture of coriander, cumin, turmeric, chilli powder, fenugreek, and other spices. It’s known for its heat and intensity. Garam masala originates from the North and typically contains cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander, star anise, and more. It is known for its warm, sweet, and aromatic flavours.
Madras curry powder is known for its spiciness and intensity. The level of heat varies depending on the brand or recipe used. But it is generally hotter than standard curry powders like mild or medium curry powder.
Now you know that there is no need to worry when you run out of Madras curry powder. You can easily make your own fiery madras curry powder or try a Madras curry powder substitute.
Experiment with different combinations of spices and get creative in the kitchen. Let me know which substitute worked best for you in the comments below!
- 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoons mustard seeds
- 1 tablespoons fenugreek seeds
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 10 cloves
- 1 tablespoon turmeric powder
- 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper *
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- Place a dry skillet over medium heat. Once hot, toast the coriander, cumin, mustard, fenugreek seeds, whole cloves and peppercorns for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant. Transfer the toasted seeds to a bowl and allow them to cool down before blitzing.
- Put the toasted spices in a spice grinder (or mortar and pestle) and blitz the spice mix into a fine powder.
- Add the turmeric powder, cayenne pepper, and ground cinnamon. Give the mix a final blitz to combine.
- You can store the Madras curry powder in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to 6 months. But it is best used within 30 days.
- You can use dried chilli pepper instead of cayenne pepper. Blitz it with the toasted spices until fine.
- Adjust the spice levels according to your taste preference. For a milder version, reduce the amount of cayenne pepper and for a spicier version, increase it.
- You can also use a pestle and mortar to grind the whole spices. Or see the best Madras curry powder substitute from ground spices or another alternative from the best Madras curry powder substitutes list.