Chana masala powder is an aromatic and flavorful spice blend that is commonly used in Indian cuisine.
It is most often used to make the classic chickpea curry dish chana masala, also known as chole masala.
However, this versatile spice mix can also be used to flavor other curries, lentils, rice, and more.
What is Chana Masala Powder?
Chana masala powder, also sometimes called chole masala powder, is a spice blend originating from Northern India and Pakistan. The term "chana" refers to chickpeas, which are commonly known as garbanzo beans.
This multipurpose spice mix typically contains the following ingredients:
- Coriander - This spice has an earthy, lemony flavor that adds a brightness to the blend. Both coriander seeds and ground coriander powder are commonly used.
- Cumin - Cumin seeds are very aromatic and add a warm, nutty flavor. Cumin powder also works well.
- Black peppercorns - Peppercorns contribute a subtle heat and fruitiness.
- Dried red chiles - These provide a mild heat and smoky flavor. Kashmiri chiles are often used.
- Green cardamom pods - Cardamom lends a sweet, floral note.
- Black salt - Black salt has a distinctly sulfurous aroma and taste. It adds a unique flavor not found in regular table salt.
- Dried mango powder - Also called amchur, this tart powder adds tanginess.
- Ginger powder - Ground ginger contributes subtle gingery heat.
- Fennel seeds - These add a light anise flavor.
Other spices like cinnamon, bay leaves, fenugreek, asafoetida (hing), and cloves are also sometimes incorporated. Individual spice blends can vary based on regional traditions or personal preference.
Why Substitute for Chana Masala Powder?
There are a few reasons why you may need a chana masala powder substitute:
- You don't have it on hand - Since this is a specific Indian spice blend, you may not be able to find it at a regular supermarket if you need it for a recipe.
- You ran out - If you cook Indian food frequently, you may unexpectedly run out of your stash of chana masala powder.
- You want to avoid an ingredient - Sometimes health conditions require avoiding certain spices. You may need to sub one out if it's present in chana masala powder.
- Customizing flavor - You can tweak a substitute spice mix to your taste preferences or what you have available.
Luckily there are many potential alternatives, both in premixed spice blends as well as DIY combinations.
7 Best Substitutes for Chana Masala Powder
If you don't have chana masala powder on hand, don't worry! Here are the top recommended substitutes to use in its place:
1. Garam Masala
Garam masala is by far the best and closest replacement for chana masala powder. This Indian spice blend contains many of the same ingredients - warm spices like cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, and black pepper.
The biggest difference is that garam masala does not contain the additional tanginess from amchur powder or black salt as chana masala does.
To use garam masala as a sub, simply use a 1:1 ratio - so for every 1 tablespoon of chana masala powder called for, use 1 tablespoon of garam masala.
Then also add a small amount of amchur powder, which is dried mango powder. About 1⁄2 teaspoon of amchur powder per tablespoon of garam masala should provide enough tartness to approximate chana masala powder.
2. Curry Powder
Another good stand-in is curry powder. This convenient blend combines many of the same warm, earthy spices that give chana masala its signature flavor.
The main difference is that curry powder contains more turmeric, which lends its vibrant golden color. It also sometimes includes ingredients like fenugreek and mustard seeds.
You can substitute curry powder using equal amounts to the chana masala powder called for (1:1 ratio). Add it at the beginning of cooking a dish to allow time for the flavors to develop fully.
Key Takeaway: Substitute curry powder 1:1 for chana masala powder, adding at the start of cooking. The color may be more yellow.
3. Cumin, Coriander, and Cardamom
You can make a simple DIY chana masala powder substitute by combining ground cumin, coriander, and cardamom - three ingredients nearly always present in chana masala spice blends.
An easy combination is:
Use this blend in place of 1 tablespoon of chana masala powder in recipes. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper too if you want to replicate some of the heat.
While not an exact match, this spice mix mimics the main flavor profile. Cumin provides an earthy warmth, coriander lends a subtle citrus note, and cardamom contributes sweetness.
4. Pav Bhaji Masala
Pav bhaji masala is another Indian spice blend that makes a good substitution for chana masala powder. It has a spicier, more piquant flavor since it contains chili peppers and other pungent spices.
You can use pav bhaji masala in a 1:1 ratio in place of chana masala powder. It may alter the flavor slightly but still adds delicious complexity and depth.
5. Panch Phoron
Panch phoron is a Bengali five-spice blend that works nicely as a substitute. It typically contains cumin, fennel, fenugreek, nigella, and black mustard seeds.
These seeds are usually fried before being added to dishes. Panch phoron has a stronger anise-forward taste from the fennel and nigella seeds.
Use about 3⁄4 teaspoon of panch phoron for every 1 tablespoon of chana masala powder called for. Add it at the beginning of cooking.
Berbere is a spice mix commonly used in Ethiopian cooking. It is made from a combination of hot chili peppers, ginger, garlic, herbs, spices, and dried onion.
It can work as a sub for chana masala powder thanks to ingredients like coriander, cardamom, fenugreek, and ajwain seeds that provide similar notes. However, berbere has a much spicier kick due to the chili peppers.
Use approximately 2 teaspoons of berbere for every 1 tablespoon of chana masala powder needed. Add it early on so the heat mellows.
7. Ras el Hanout
A spice blend originating from North Africa, ras el hanout contains up to 30 different spices, most commonly cumin, coriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and chili peppers.
It has a more complex flavor than chana masala powder, with a notable licorice taste from star anise. But it approximates the overall warm, aromatic character required.
Use about 2 teaspoons of ras el hanout for every 1 tablespoon of chana masala powder when substituting.
Spice Blends to Avoid as Substitutes
While the spice mixes above can work nicely, there are some blends that do not make good chana masala powder replacements:
- Pumpkin pie spice - Too heavy on cinnamon and ginger, making it taste too sweet.
- Chaat masala - Contains too much tart amchur powder, leading to a very sour flavor.
- Biryani masala - Much more robust in flavor and may overpower dishes.
- Taco seasoning - Primarily contains chili powder, cumin, garlic, and onion rather than the warm spices in chana masala.
For best results, steer clear of these spice blends as substitutes. You're better off using one of the recommended combinations above to approximate chana masala powder.
Tips for Using Chana Masala Powder Substitutes
Here are some useful tips to keep in mind when using a substitute for chana masala powder in recipes:
- If using whole spices in a blend, toast or roast them briefly first to intensify the flavors before grinding.
- Add chana masala powder substitutes early in the cooking process to allow the flavors to fully develop.
- Start with less substitute blend than the chana masala powder amount called for, then taste and adjust as needed.
- Consider the dish you are making - some subs work better in certain cuisines and recipes than others.
- Try different combinations to find your favorite homemade chana masala powder replacement recipe.
- Store leftovers in an airtight container in a cool, dark place to preserve freshness.
How to Make Homemade Chana Masala Powder
While substitutions work, nothing beats homemade when it comes to chana masala powder. Toasted, freshly ground spices have the most vibrant flavor and aroma.
Here is a recipe to make your own aromatic chana masala powder at home:
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 3 dried red chilies, seeded and broken into pieces
- 5 whole green cardamom pods
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 tablespoon amchur powder
- 1⁄2 teaspoon black salt
- Heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Add coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, dried chilies, cardamom pods, cloves, and cinnamon stick. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until spices become fragrant. Remove from heat.
- Allow the toasted spices to completely cool. Then grind them in a spice grinder or blender into a fine powder.
- Add the fennel seeds, ginger powder, amchur powder, and black salt. Pulse a few more times to incorporate.
- Store the homemade chana masala powder in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
Enjoy this vibrant, freshly ground chana masala powder in your favorite Indian dishes! It can be used just like store-bought.
Can I use garam masala instead of chana masala powder?
Yes, garam masala makes the best direct substitute for chana masala powder. Simply use a 1:1 ratio - for every 1 tablespoon of chana masala powder called for, use 1 tablespoon of garam masala. Also add about 1⁄2 teaspoon of amchur powder for some tanginess.
What's a good substitute for amchur powder?
If a recipe calls for amchur powder but you don't have it, you can substitute an equal amount of lemon or lime juice. The bright acidity provides a similar tangy flavor. Tamarind paste also works and adds sweetness.
Can I use chaat masala as a replacement for chana masala?
It's not recommended. Chaat masala contains a lot of amchur powder, which makes it overwhelmingly tart. The flavor profile is quite different from the more balanced spices in chana masala powder.
Is chana masala powder the same as curry powder?
While they share some ingredients, chana masala powder and curry powder are not exactly the same. Curry powder contains more turmeric, fenugreek seeds, and mustard seeds. It works well as a substitute but may give dishes a more yellow color.
Can I make chana masala powder without amchur powder?
You can omit the amchur powder from a homemade chana masala powder recipe. However, it provides a tangy flavor not easily replicated. If leaving it out, add lemon or lime juice to the finished dish to provide some acidity.
Chana masala powder is a quintessential ingredient in Indian cuisine, adding incredible aromatic flavor to dishes like chana masala chickpea curry. With its unique blend of spices, the flavor is difficult to duplicate exactly. However, alternatives like garam masala, curry powder, and DIY spice mixes can make suitable substitutions when you're out of this spice blend.
Understanding the differences between chana masala powder and potential replacements allows you to approximate the flavor profile as closely as possible. A combination of common spices you likely have on hand can act as a fast homemade substitute blend. With the tips provided, you can confidently use chana masala powder substitutes to add delicious complexity and depth to any dish.