I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of Madras curry powder 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 swap, or want a substitute that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
Regular curry powder or garam masala with a pinch of chili powder are the best substitutes for Madras curry powder. Madras curry paste is also a great option. Or if you have some time, it’s pretty easy to make a homemade Madras curry powder.
I made a few batches of chickpea curry (I had chickpea curry lunches for daaaays) to test out several different Madras curry powder substitutes.
Madras curry powder is a delicious blend of warming, earthy spices. There’s no one recipe, so the spice level can differ but it’s generally spicier than regular curry powder and includes ingredients like coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, and turmeric.
Its uses aren’t limited to curries either! You can use Madras curry powder whenever you feel like your dish would benefit from a spicy boost. I often see it called for in marinades and creamy sauces.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Curry powder + chili powder||3/4 curry powder + 1/4 chili powder||9/10|
|Ready-made Madras curry paste||Replace with ½ the amount||9/10|
|Homemade Madras curry powder||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||9/10|
|Garam masala + chili powder||3/4 garam masala + 1/4 chili powder||8/10|
|Sambar powder||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Tandoori masala||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||7/10|
|Vindaloo paste||Replace with ½ the amount||7/10|
Curry powder + chili powder
Let’s start with the simplest and the most accessible substitute: a mix of regular curry powder and chili powder. It’s as straightforward as it sounds and incredibly effective.
Many regular curry powder blends are made with similar spices to Madras curry powder, so they have a similar robust, earthy flavor.
But they’re often missing a chili component to bring that fiery kick, which is where the chili powder comes in. A pinch is all you need to inject some essential heat.
I mixed a 1/4 teaspoon chili powder with a 3/4 teaspoon of curry powder, but you can use more or less chili depending on how much spice you can handle.
How to substitute: replace Madras curry powder in a 1:1 ratio with this curry-chili powder mix.
Ready-made Madras curry paste
Moving on to our next contender: ready-made Madras curry paste!
It’s the same as Madras curry powder, but in a paste form. Normally curry pastes are more potent than the powdered versions because they use fresh ingredients.
But the Madras paste I had used dried spices, and I found it’s flavor identical to the powder once my chickpea curry was cooked.
One downside to a paste is that the shelf-life isn’t as long as a powder. So you’ll want to have a plan to use it all up!
Brands like Maya Kaimal and Patak’s offer superb quality Madras paste and are readily available in mainstream grocery chains.
How to substitute: replace Madras curry powder with half the amount of Madras curry paste.
Homemade Madras curry powder
There’s no strict recipe for Madras curry powder, but this recipe from Chef Kunal Kapur has yet to fail me.
The ingredient list is a bit lengthy, with 12 different spices to source.
Don’t be disheartened, though! You might be surprised how many of them you already have in your cupboards. Things like bay leaves, garlic powder, and cinnamon are pantry staples.
And all the more unique ingredients like fenugreek, turmeric, and fennel seeds can be found in well-stocked grocery stores. There’s nothing on there that will be too difficult to find.
After you’ve gathered the ingredients you need to toast the whole spices in a dry pan, before grinding everything together (you can use a spice grinder, a mortar and pestle, or a coffee grinder).
And voila – homemade Madras curry powder that’ll last you for months!
How to substitute: replace Madras curry powder in a 1:1 ratio with your homemade version.
If you love cooking Indian food, this is another spice that you might already have to hand.
Garam masala is a fragrant blend of warming spices like cumin, coriander, cardamom, black pepper, and cinnamon. It imparts a warm, earthy flavor to curries but lacks the heat associated with Madras curry powder.
This is an easy fix though! Like with curry powder, you can mix your garam masala with a bit of chili powder to add some spice. I also added about a pinch of turmeric powder to the garam masala to give my chickpea curry a gorgeous yellow color.
Another thing to note is that garam masala is usually added towards the end of the cooking process. You can add it at the same time as you would the Madras powder, but save a pinch to sprinkle in at the end as well to make sure you get the full flavor.
How to substitute: replace Madras curry powder in a 1:1 ratio with a mixture of 3/4 tsp garam masala, 1/4 tsp chili powder, and a pinch of turmeric.
Next up is Sambar powder. It’s typically used in a spicy South Indian lentil soup of the same name, but can also stand in for Madras curry if it’s all you have.
It shares several ingredients with Madras curry powder, like coriander, cumin, turmeric, and red chilies, so infused my curry with a similar earthy goodness. But there’s also lots of different ingredients that gives it a distinct, more complex taste (e.g. mustard seeds and curry leaves).
The final results was rich and delicious, but not that spicy.
How to substitute: replace Madras curry powder in a 1:1 ratio with sambar powder.
Next up, we have Tandoori Masala. This spice is traditionally used for marinating proteins before grilling or baking in a tandoor (a cylindrical clay oven).
But you can also use this spice-mix as a substitute for Madras curry in a pinch.
It shares many of the same warm spices and most commercial brands also include chili powder, so it has just the right amount of kick. But it’s bright red instead of yellow, so will change the look of your dish.
Pssst… remember to check the ingredients list, some brands will use Kashmiri chili powder instead of regular chili powder, which has a milder heat.
How to substitute: replace Madras curry powder in a 1:1 ratio with tandoori masala.
Think Madras curry powder’s spice is too tame for your liking? Give vindaloo a whirl instead.
It shares many of the same spices with Madras curry powder but has a LOT more heat. And that’s not the only twist – it also packs a tangy punch from the addition of vinegar ( which further intensifies the heat).
Start with half the amount, see how it goes, and adjust according to your taste buds.
Pssst… remember the brands I mentioned in the Madras curry paste section? They sell vindaloo paste too!
How to substitute: replace Madras curry powder with ½ the amount of vindaloo paste.
Substitutes to avoid
I encountered loads of suggestions for Madras curry powder substitutes, but not all of them worked out well.
Despite also being used for curries, I wouldn’t recommend using Thai red, green, or yellow curry pastes as a substitute. These pastes are spicier and they also have citrusy notes, courtesy of ingredients like lemongrass and galangal.
Sambal oelek is also a bad substitute. It’s a chili paste made with pureed chili peppers and vinegar, so has spice but not much else! It wasn’t flavorful enough to use a base for my chickpea curry.
I was also surprised to see chaat masala suggested a few times because it tastes nothing like Madras curry powder and uses completely different spices like dried mango powder and dried mint. It’s more tart and salty, with a subtle sweet twist.
7 Best Madras Curry Powder Substitutes + 3 Substitutes
- 3 bayleaves
- 8 dried red chilies
- 2 ½ tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tbsp whole black pepper
- 1 tsp fenugreek
- 1 tbsp + 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 ¼ tsp turmeric
- 1 tbsp ginger powder
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- In a dry pan, add the bay leaves, dried red chilies, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, fenugreek, fennel seeds, cinnamon, and cumin. Gently toast them until the spices turn lightly brown.
- Remove from heat and let the toasted spices cool down. Once cool, add the toasted spices in your grinder or food processor. Add in the dried spics then season with salt.
- Grind the spices into a fine powder. After grinding, transfer into an airtight container.