Garam masala is a blend of ground spices common in the Indian and Pakistani cuisine, whose literal meaning is 'hot (or warm) spice'. There are many variants: most traditional mixes use just cinnamon, roasted cumin, cloves, nutmeg (and/or mace) and green cardamom seed or black cardamom pods. Many commercial mixtures may include more of other less expensive spices and may contain dried red chili peppers, dried garlic, ginger powder, sesame, mustard seeds, turmeric, coriander, bay leaves, cumin, and fennel. While commercial garam masala preparations can be bought ready ground, it does not keep well, and soon loses its aroma. Whole spices, which keep fresh much longer, can be ground when needed using a mortar and pestle or electric coffee grinder.
Garam masala can be used during cooking, but unlike many spices, it is often added at the end of cooking, so that the full aroma is not lost. Garam masala is not "hot" in the sense that chilis are, but is fairly pungent.
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