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BEST Substitutes For Curry Powder + What To Avoid

I personally taste-tested a variety of 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 substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.

The best substitute for curry powder is to make your own. There’s no exact recipe for curry powder, so you can try a few until you find one you like. A mix of cumin, chili, and turmeric is a quick and easy option. You can also try other spice mixes like sambar powder or tandoori masala.

The Experiment

I made a few different batches of these curried potatoes (making lots of different curries was too much work!) to test out different substitutes for curry powder.

Curry powder is a vibrant mix of spices including turmeric, cumin, and coriander. It can range from mild to spicy and was originally invented to make it easier to make Indian-style curries at home. It’s used in curry recipes, but you can also find it used to flavor salads and snacks, in marinades and sauces, and dishes like biryani.

Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:

SubstitutesSubstitute NotesVerdict
Homemade curry powderEasy to customize10/10
Cumin mixesAn easy homemade option8/10
Sambar powderSouth Indian style7/10
Garam masalaWith adjustments6/10
Curry pasteA fresher version8/10
Tandoori masalaSmokier7/10
Ras el hanoutFloral and earthy6/10

Homemade Curry Powder

Creating your own homemade curry powder is the best way to replicate its flavor, and because there’s no exact recipe for curry powder, you can customize the blend to suit you.

The core spices are coriander, turmeric, cumin, chili, and fenugreek, although the simplest blends might even skip the fenugreek because it’s not a common household spice. Other potential ingredients include cinnamon, mustard seed, garlic, ginger, curry leaf, clove, and lots more.

Here’s my go-to recipe.


  • 2 tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tbsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or ground chilies


  1. Combine the ground spices in a mixing bowl and mix until completely combined.
  2. Store the curry powder in an airtight container away from direct sunlight.

Note: For best results buy whole spices and lightly toast them in a dry pan for about 30 seconds before grinding and mixing them. This will give you the boldest, freshest flavor.

If you do use fresh ground spices, use less than the recipe calls for because the flavors will be more potent. As the spices age, they’ll get less potent and you will need to use more powder to get the same flavor.

How to substitute: Replace curry powder in a 1:1 ratio with your homemade version, or use 25% less if you used freshly ground spices.

Cumin Mixes

Cumin is one of the most dominant flavors in curry powder with its earthy and slightly spicy flavor. Turmeric is also an important spice because it’s responsible for the distinctive yellow color and it has a characteristic bitter, almost mustard-like earthiness.

Combining these two spices with one or two more is a short-cut way to make a curry powder without having to use your whole spice rack. Here are two mixes I’d recommend:

  • Cumin + turmeric + allspice: This option is great if you want a warm blend that’s not too spicy. You can add a touch of chili if you want.
  • Cumin + chili powder + turmeric: If you prefer a spicier, bolder curry powder, then omit the allspice and use chili powder

If you don’t have any cumin or you’re not a fan of the strong flavor, you can swap it out for coriander seed. Coriander seed is more subtle than cumin and has a more citrus-like flavor with an edge of spice.

How to substitute: Replace curry powder in a 1:1 ratio with your spice mix, or use 25% less if you used freshly ground spices.

Sambar Powder

Sambar powder is a distinct South Indian spice blend that doesn’t taste that similar to curry powder but will result in a delicious curry. The blend typically includes roasted lentils, dried red chilies, fenugreek seeds, coriander seeds, and a pinch of asafoetida.

It has a richer, more savory character compared to curry powder and the asafoetida imparts a unique umami quality to the powder, similar to the flavor of sauteed leeks or onions.

Sambar powder can work in any type of curry, but it really shines in lentil dishes or vegetable-based curries where its flavors can stand out. It worked really well with my plain potato base.

Pro tip: Sambar powder can be very strong, so be conservative with how much you add at first. You don’t want to overwhelm the other ingredients in your recipe.

How to substitute: Replace curry powder with half the amount of sambar powder and then adjust to taste.

Garam Masala

Garam masala stands out in the spice world for its aromatic complexity and the warmth it brings to dishes. There’s no recipe for garam masala and the exact mix of spices used varies widely by region and even from household to household, but it will include things like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander, nutmeg, and peppercorns.

Lots of websites claim garam masala is a great replacement for curry powder, but it’s not quite that simple. You can replace one with the other, but you need to be aware of a few things first.

For example, some blends will have a sweeter profile with more cinnamon and cardamom, while others will highlight the pungency of cloves and peppercorns. Sweeter versions of garam masala aren’t a good replacement for curry powders. It’s also a good idea to mix in some turmeric, cumin, and chili powder (if you want more spice) to bring the flavor closer to curry powder.

Another crucial difference is that garam masala is usually used as a finishing spice, while curry powder is added at the beginning of a recipe. Introducing garam masala earlier in the cooking process will result in a more mellow flavor as the spices lose their volatile oils.

How to substitute: Replace curry powder in a 1:1 ratio with garam masala if you add it at the beginning, or half the amount if you add it later in the cooking process.

Curry Paste

If you find yourself without any curry powder, or you don’t like the taste of it, try swapping it for curry paste. Curry paste is a moist blend of ground spices and herbs, with fresh ingredients like onions, ginger, and garlic. These ingredients are mixed with oil or vinegar to form a paste.

Some people who find curry powder too astringent and overpowering prefer the fresher, more vibrant flavors of curry paste. Another advantage of curry paste is that you don’t need to cook it for as long as curry powder, so it’s good for making curry in a hurry.

You can get lots of different types of curry paste, each with its own individual flavor. For example, Thai green curry paste is mild and has notes of lemongrass. Red curry paste tends to be hotter. Yellow curry paste is influenced by Indian flavors.

Psst… curry paste can also contain salt, so check the ingredients and adjust your seasoning accordingly.

How to substitute: Replace 1 teaspoon of curry powder with 1 tablespoon of curry paste.

Tandoori Masala

Tandoori masala offers a delightful twist when substituted for curry powder, infusing dishes with a smoky character. The primary spices in tandoori masala – cumin, coriander, garlic, chili, and ginger – overlap with those found in typical curry powders, but the inclusion of paprika and sometimes garam masala adds more depth. Amchoor also adds a slight tanginess.

If you want to swap tandoori masala for curry powder there are a few things you need to consider. Tandoor masala is usually more pungent and concentrated in flavor and it can be spicier than curry powder because it’s made to withstand prolonged, high-heat cooking (of the tandoor).

This means you won’t want to use too much, just like with sambar powder. Your food will also be bright red instead of yellow – my potatoes looked super appetizing.

How to substitute: Replace curry powder with half the amount of tandoori masala and then adjust to taste.

Ras el Hanout

Ras el hanout is a North African spice blend whose name means “head of the shop,” implying it’s the best offering a spice shop has to offer. Similar to garam masala, there’s no one recipe for ras el hanout. Each blend can contain up to 35 different spices, traditionally including cardamom, cumin, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, allspice, dry ginger, chili peppers, coriander seed, peppercorn, sweet and hot paprika, fenugreek, and dry turmeric (a lot!).

The flavor profile of ras el hanout is complex and nuanced, with sweet, spicy, floral, and earthy notes. It’s commonly used in Moroccan cuisine and goes really nicely with stronger meats like beef or lamb.

It’s not so much a substitute for curry powder, but more like an alternative that will change the essence of your dish… but hopefully you’ll love it! I loved my ras el hanout potatoes.

How to substitute: Replace curry powder with half the amount of ras el hanout and then adjust to taste.

Substitutes to avoid

Other blogs have lots of suggestions for things you can use instead of curry powder, but not all of them are good suggestions. In fact, I think lots of them are bad suggestions!

Here are the ones I don’t recommend.

Chai Spice Mix

Chai spice mix is a blend of sweet and warming spices like cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg and is crafted for use in teas and sweet dishes. Its lack of savory tones makes it unsuitable for replacing curry powder.

Chaat Masala

Chaat masala is a tangy and savory spice mix commonly used as a finishing spice in Indian street food. One of its key components is amchoor (dry mango powder), which gives it a potent sourness and fruity undertone that you don’t get in curry powder.

Chinese 5 Spice

Chinese 5 spice is a blend that usually contains star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and fennel seeds. It has a sweetish licorice-like flavor that doesn’t mesh well with Indian-style dishes. The flavor is too different from curry powder for it to be an appropriate substitute.

Single Spices (e.g only cumin)

A single spice such as cumin or coriander seed is way too basic to replace curry powder. The whole point of curry powder is that the spices work together to harmonize and make sure one flavor isn’t overwhelming. Using one alone is a bad idea.

Best Curry Powder Substitutes + What To Avoid

I tested several different curry powder substitutes to find the best one. I also include an easy homemade recipe.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Ingredient
Cuisine: American, British, Indian
Keyword: curry powder substitutes, substitutes for curry powder
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 1 person
Calories: 11kcal


  • 2 tbsp ground coriander
  • 2 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tbsp ground turmeric
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground mustard
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or ground chilie


  • Mix all the spices together in a bowl until well combined.
  • Add your chosen curry powder substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
  • Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.


Serving: 1tbsp | Calories: 11kcal

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