When used whole, garam masala spices are called khada masala and are added to hot oil before the other ingredients. Once added, they begin to sizzle (the cumin) and unfurl (the cinnamon stick) and release their essence into the oil. For the ground version, the spices are gently roasted on a griddle until they release their aroma, then ground together into a powder and used primarily as a finishing spice. That is, it is added with a gentle hand, generally toward the end of the cooking process, often as the final garnish of a dish.
I distinctly remember that as a child, after my mother dusted it over finished meat and vegetable curries, I would gently scrape the sprinkled spices off the food with a spoon and discard them into the nearest trash can. I could not understand why people liked such a strong-tasting spice mix.
The combination of cinnamon, nutmeg, nut mace, cloves, cardamom, pepper and cumin was just over powering for me. (While the word garam does mean “heat,” it does not mean the spices are hot. It means that the spices raise the heat of the body by raising the metabolism.)
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