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Spice Spotlight: Everything You Need to Know About Curry

30 November 2022

Most spices are varying shades of brown. Curry, on the other hand, is brightly coloured orange and truly stands out. Contrary to popular belief, curry is not made from a single ingredient. Rather, it is a spice blend with ingredients that vary between brands.

Curry is a popular spice blend associated with Indian cuisine. However, the story behind this vibrantly coloured spice is far more complicated.

What is curry?

Curry powder is a vibrantly coloured orange-yellow spice blend. It is made up of aromatic spices that are common in Indian cuisine. There is no definitive curry recipe. 

However, most curries incorporate some combination of the following spices: turmeric, cumin, ground coriander, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and ginger.

Curry powder is completely unrelated to curry leaves, which is a herb commonly used in Indian cooking. There are no curry leaves in curry powder.

The History of Curry

The spice blend curry is actually a British invention and not an Indian one.

During the British rule of India in the 18th century, English colonists and soldiers encountered the enticing world of Indian spices and cuisine. The English sought to bring the distinct flavours of India back home to England. However, there was no Indian spice blend called curry.

Indian cuisine achieves its flavour profiles by mixing fresh and complex blends of spices. The British simplified this process of assembling spices by creating an amorphous spice mix. 

The British took the most popular spices and combined them to a one-size-fits-all Indian spice blend, which they named curry. It was a simpler way of emulating Indian flavours.

The word “curry” comes from the Indian word “kari,” meaning sauce. Kari describes any Indian meat or vegetable dish that features a spiced gravy and is served with rice. By creating the curry spice blend, the British hoped to replicate this style of dish.

The Difference Between Curry and Garam Masala

Garam masala refers to the traditional Indian spice blend often used in Indian cuisine. It is not the same as curry. The two have different ingredients, different flavour profiles, and different histories.

Translating to a “mix of hot spices,” garam masala is a day-to-day spice blend that is a staple of many Indian dishes. It has a warm and bitter taste and can be used to add sweet undertones to meals.

There is no set garam masala recipe. However, the blend typically includes cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, mace, cardamom, peppercorns, coriander, turmeric, and cumin. These ingredients mean that garam masala is usually brown in colour.

British colonial officials tried to create a garam masala with their collection of Indian spices but ended up with something different altogether. Curry has a milder flavour than garam masala. It’s also a vibrant orange-yellow due to its high turmeric content. 

Curry Paste

Curry paste is a thick, concentrated spice blend that’s commonly used in Southeast Asian dishes. This paste is diluted with wet ingredients like coconut milk to create flavour-rich sauces.

There are red, yellow, and green curry pastes. Each lends a distinct colour and flavour to dishes.

Dried red chillies form the base of Thai red curry paste, which also includes spices like coriander, lemongrass, garlic, shrimp paste, and kaffir lime.

Green curry paste is milder, using green chillies alongside shallots, coriander, garlic, lemongrass, Thai Basil, fresh cilantro, and Kaffir lime leaves.

Lastly, yellow curry paste is the mildest of the three. It includes yellow chillies, lemongrass, galangal, shrimp paste, and turmeric.

Curries From Around the World

Nowadays, curry is a term used to describe various spice blends used throughout the world.


  • Madras Curry Powder

    This is a red-hot southern Indian curry blend containing dried mild chilies, cinnamon, green cardamom, black peppercorns, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, mustard seeds, and turmeric. Its ingredients are muskier and have stronger flavours than those used in garam masala.

  • Vindaloo Curry Powder

    This is the spiciest curry powder. It is made from red chilies, cumin, coriander, peppercorns, green cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon.

  • Chat Masala

    This is a tangy, salty, sweet blend that incorporates 15 different spices. Dried mango is the predominant flavour (amchoor) alongside black salt.

  • Japan

    • Japanese Curry Powder

      The British brought their Indian curry powders to Japan, who then created their own version. Consequently, the taste of Japanese curry powder was heavily influenced by Indian flavours.

      However, this spice blend is milder and sweet. It typically includes fenugreek, cumin, coriander, turmeric, black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, garlic, fennel, cardamom, cloves, and nutmeg.


    • Red curry paste, green curry paste, and yellow curry paste.


    • Jamaican Curry Powder

      This curry blend is known for its heat. It contains allspice berries, spicy mustard, peppercorns, chilies, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.

    • Trinidad Curry Powder

      Although similar to Jamaican curry, the Trinidad spice blend is milder. Cumin, coriander, cardamom, black pepper, and curry leaves are common ingredients.

    • Africa

      • Ras el Hanout

        This African spice blend is not a true curry powder; however, it’s often included in the same category. It includes many of the same ingredients as typical curry powders and, like the British curry powder, is a combination of the most popular spices.

        Ras el hanout translates to “top of the shelf” and has no set ingredients. Many types do include turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, and black pepper.

      Custom Curry Spice Blends by Hela Spice

      Curry refers to an amorphous spice mix that contains many of the most popular Indian spices. Although it seeks to capture Indian flavours, this blend is a British invention.

      There is no strict recipe behind curry powder. Rather, it can be customized to suit any brand and to appeal to any demographic.

      You may opt to stick to the ingredients most commonly used in curry spice blends or base your own spice mix on one of the other international curry varieties.

      At Hela Spice, we specialize in custom spice blending. Our team of flavour experts can create the perfect custom curry spice blend for your customers.

      To learn more about our spice blends at Hela Spice, visit us at www.helaspice.com or contact us here.

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