I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of chaat masala substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
The best substitute for chaat masala is to make your own blend. The process is easy but getting all the ingredients can be tricky. In a pinch, a blend of lemon juice and red pepper flakes or amchur powder and cayenne pepper will work. Tajin is also a solid alternative.
I cut up a whole pineapple to put different chaat masala substitutes through a taste test.
Chaat masala is an Indian spice blend that boasts a mixture of spicy, sour, salty, and sweet notes. It’s typically used as a condiment and sprinkled over traditional snacks like papri chaat and pani puri. But you can really sprinkle it over anything – from nuts, fruits, popcorn, and even vegetables.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Homemade Chaat Masala||Flavorful and authentic||10/10|
|Lemon Juice + Red Pepper Flakes||Zesty and spicy, lacks some nuances||8/10|
|Amchur Powder + Cayenne Powder||Balanced flavor profile||9/10|
|Tajin||More citrus focused||8/10|
Homemade Chaat Masala
Chaat masala’s flavor is so unique that the best substitute I found is to make it from scratch. It’s not the most convenient, but trust me – the flavor was worth it.
The good news is making chaat masala itself is easy. The real hurdle is sourcing the unique ingredients. If you’re not in South Asia, ingredients like black salt or amchur might seem elusive. But here’s a hack: a pinch of Himalayan pink salt can be a worthy stand-in for black salt, and a dab of tamarind pulp or lemon zest can mimic the tang of amchur.
I was lucky enough to find all the ingredients in my local Asian store, and my homemade chaat masala was fabulous. It melded with the sweetness of my pineapples so perfectly I had to stop myself from finishing the whole thing.
How to Substitute: Replace chaat masala in a 1:1 ratio with the homemade version.
Lemon Juice + Red Pepper Flakes
For a zesty shortcut, consider a duo of lemon juice and red pepper flakes. It’s not perfect, but it’s an easy way to instantly bring a tart, spicy kick to your dishes.
While this combo brings the heat and tang, it doesn’t have the umami kick and other nuances of chaat masala. I also thought the lemon juice’s acidity was a tad too sharp, especially with the fresh pineapple. So I recommend starting with a small amount of lemon juice and adding more as you need.
You could also try using lemon zest instead of lemon juice, and this tends to be more mellow. And if you want more heat, swap the red pepper flakes for harissa powder instead.
How to Substitute: Start with 1 tsp of lemon juice + ½ tsp red pepper flakes and add more to taste.
Amchur Powder + Cayenne Powder
If you happen to have amchur powder and none of the other ingredients needed to make chaat masala, you can simply mix it with cayenne powder.
This is very similar to the previous substitute, except amchur isn’t as acidic as lemon juice and has subtle sweet notes for a more balanced flavor profile. However, this blend still won’t give you the same umami, funky kick as chaat masala.
Want to inch closer to that iconic chaat profile? A little cumin powder and a sprinkle of MSG for umami should do the trick.
Pro tip: sumac mixed with cayenne powder is also a decent substitute option.
How to Substitute: Replace chaat masala in a 1:1 ratio with amchur powder + cayenne powder.
If you love Mexican food, then this spice blend won’t be a stranger to you. It’s made with chili peppers, lime, and salt, giving you a familiar tangy-spicy kick to chaat masala.
The main difference here is that tajin is more citrus-focused and doesn’t have the same earthiness as chaat masala.
But it still tasted fabulous when I sprinkled it over my fresh pineapple, which coincidentally is one of the classic ways to enjoy this condiment. But like with chaat masala, you can sprinkle this over anything too. It’s even used to line the rims of glasses for cocktails like margaritas.
How to Substitute: Replace chaat masala in a 1:1 ratio with tajin.
Substitutes To Avoid
There were other suggestions for chaat masala substitutes that I came across while I was researching, but not all of them worked out when I tested them. For example:
- Garam Masala: While both garam masala and chaat masala hail from India, their flavor profiles are worlds apart. Garam masala is a blend of warming spices like cloves, cinnamon, and cardamom and is much more sweet and aromatic than chaat masala.
- Curry Powder: Curry powder, with its mix of turmeric, coriander, and cumin, delivers a rounded, earthy flavor that doesn’t capture the piquant and zesty characteristics of chaat masala.
- Sambhar Masala: This is another Indian spice blend and it does share some flavor similarities with chaat masala. But it’s traditionally used in cooking sambar (hence the name) and not as a condiment to sprinkle on things.
Psst… the blogs you see these suggested on have clearly never tasted either ingredient!
Best Chaat Masala Substitutes + 3 To Avoid
- cumin seeds (zeera)
- dried green mango powder (amchoor)
- dried pomegranate seeds
- black salt powder
- red chili powder
- black peppercorns
- cane sugar
- garam masala, optional
- heat a skillet over medium heat. Toast the cumin seeds, shaking the skillet frequently for 2-3 minutes. Once the cumin seeds are aromatic, remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Add the remaining ingredients to the spice grinder. Once cooled, transfer the cumin seeds to the spice grinder. Blitz until you have a fine powder. Store in an airtight spice jar for 6-8 weeks.