Garam means “hot” or “heating” and masala means “spice blend”. The “hot” is not necessarily referring to the kind of heat we find in hot chillies but to the fact that the spices are first toasted then ground. This is a North Indian spice mix. Unlike other spice mixtures, Garam masala is often sprinkled over a finished dish to enhance the flavors, adding a gentle aroma of roasted spices just before serving. It may also be used in the early stages of cooking to flavour a dish. The word garam refers to spice intensity, not heat; Garam masala is pungent, but not “hot” in the same way as a chili pepper. The amalgamated effect of the spices in garam masala increases body temperature, a pleasant warm glow you might feel after eating a dish flavoured with it. It does however usually include some black pepper and cinnamon which carries some heat.
Whole garam masala is used more in north Indian cooking, especially meat dishes. A whole garam masala could include cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cloves, cardamom pods, mace blades, and black peppercorns. These are fried in hot oil or ghee before other ingredients such as meat, onions, garlic, or ginger are added. Heating these spices releases a wonderful aroma that fills your house and stimulates appetites. Ground garam masala is usually added at the end of cooking or may even be added to a dish after serving. It can be sprinkled over a squash before roasting or a bowl of pumpkin soup before serving, or onto corn on the cob that has been brushed with oil or butter.