Tandoori Masala: Substitutes, Ingredients, Uses, And Flavor

One of the hottest-selling foods in Indian restaurants across the world is tandoori chicken. It’s nothing but chicken marinated with spices and yogurt roasted in a tandoor (a cylindrical clay oven). The mouth-watering taste of tandoori chicken is attributed to the tandoori masala mix and charcoal burning of the meat.

What to do if I don’t have the spice mixture required for tandoori chicken?  What can I use instead of tandoori masala?  This article brings home to you the best tandoori masala substitute to use in a pinch, also a little about its ingredients, flavor profile, and uses in cooking.

What is tandoori masala?

Tandoori masala is a seasoning blend of spices used for marinating tandoori chicken.  In Hindi, the word ‘masala’ means ‘a blend of spices used for seasoning foods.

This spice mix is part and parcel of traditional Indian cooking. This seasoning blend is available in Indian grocery stores as tandoori masala paste and tandoori masala powder. A wide variety of tandoori masala is available from different brands with some variations in ingredients and flavor profile.

If you have the necessary ingredients, then you can easily make it at home. A freshly prepared masala can be stored in an airtight container for up to two months.

What is tandoori masala made of?

Tandoori masala is made of pantry staple ingredients, and nothing exotic about it. The common ingredients in tandoori masala are cumin, ginger, garlic powder, mace, cloves, cinnamon, fenugreek, cardamom, black pepper, and nutmeg. Different brands may have few variations in the ingredients used in the masala.

What does tandoori masala taste like?

Generally, tandoori masala makes the dish pungent and renders a complex flavor because of a variety of sweet, hot, and aromatic spices used in it. Also, a strong garlicky flavor is distinctively felt in all tandoori dishes.

When tandoori masala is used in non-tandoori dishes, it provides a savory, aromatics, and a strong spicy flavor. Grilled tandoori chicken is succulently juicy because of the yogurt and lemon added to the tandoori spice mix. The smoky heat of the oven burns the meat and masala to render a tapestry of earthy flavors from garam masala to ginger, garlic, and smoky chili flavor.

How is tandoori masala used in cooking?

Tandoori masala is mostly used for making tandoori chicken. Wherein, chicken is marinated with a mixture of tandoori masala and yogurt before roasting it in tandoor with heat and smoke.

In addition to tandoori chicken, this masala is used in Punjabi dishes like butter chicken or chicken tikka. Tandoori masala is also used in dishes other than chicken like shrimps, paneer tikka, and more.

What is a good tandoori masala substitute?

As you already know, this masala is exclusively used in North Indian tandoori dishes. However, the tandoori spice mix is versatile enough to be used in other Indian-style dishes as well, especially in savory dishes.

If you have run out of tandoori masala or are not available in your area, there are alternative spice blends that produce a similar flavor. Choose one of the following tandoori masala substitutes listed below:

1. Homemade tandoori masala

It isn’t tough to make tandoori masala at your home. To make things easy for you, all the ingredients in tandoori masala are pantry staples, and you might already have most of them in your pantry.

Tandoori masala recipe (½ cup):

  • 1 ½ tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground mace
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

Grind all the ingredients into a fine powder and combine them in a blender or bowl. Store this spice blend in an airtight container.

For the best flavor, use fresh and whole ingredients and grind them by yourself just before making the blend. Making your own spice mix gives you the freedom to adjust ingredients according to your taste preferences.

2. Madras curry powder

Madras is the old name of Chennai, one of the largest cities in India. Though the name indicates an Indian spice blend in reality this spice blend has its origin in the UK. It is one of the most popular curry spice blends available in grocery stores in the UK.

This spice blend contains Indian spices; most ingredients are the same as the tandoori masala. They both have the same level of heat with a somewhat similar taste profile.

What makes Madras curry powder different from tandoori masala is the inclusion of turmeric powder in the former, just a cosmetic difference. Madras curry powder appears yellow while tandoori masala has bright red color.

As a substitution, use Madras curry powder in the same quantity as the tandoori masala required for your recipe.

3. Garam masala

Is Garam Masala the same as tandoori masala? They are not the same but both of them have similar ingredients except for a few. Garam masala is typically used for seasoning cooked food.

Garam masala is milder than tandoori spice mix in terms of heat. In a pinch, you may use garam masala in place of tandoori masala along with cayenne pepper, chili pepper, ginger, and other spices.

4. Vindaloo curry powder

The vindaloo spice blend is commonly used in Indian dishes, especially in cuisines across the Goa region. This is said to be a fusion of Indian spices with herbal ingredients used in Portuguese cuisines.  The vindaloo spice mixture is a common kitchen staple seasoning ingredient in Goa.

Most ingredients in vindaloo curry powder are the very same spices used in Tandoori masala. Both these blends are mostly used in meat dishes. Vindaloo is hot and reddish like tandoori masala because of ground cayenne pepper included in it. In an emergency, vindaloo curry powder is an excellent substitute for tandoori masala and vice versa.