Despite its fiery reputation, especially in England, this Madras curry powder is beautiful either mildly spiced or hot as you wish. And it is superior to any store-bought spice mix, so use it instead of "curry powder" and up your curry game. If you want to try your hand at more homemade curry powders, make my memorable Kerala or Goan garam masalas.
What is Madras Curry Powder?
The city of Madras in the state of Tamil Nadu is now called Chennai, so technically this formulation could be called Chennai curry powder.
Freshly toasted and powdered spices are one of my favorite and most rewarding things to make. I then have a quick and easy blend that flavors many dishes.
In addition to the usual spices found in curry powder, the Madras version adds ground red chili, fenugreek, and mustard seeds. I have also found that some cooks add one or more of the following spices: dried curry leaves, star anise, Indian bay leaf (tej patta), and long pepper. So you can have fun making your "house curry powder."
Is Madras Curry Powder Authentic?
There are conflicting opinions about whether Madras curry powder is an "authentic" Indian spice mix or whether it was formulated for Western (British) tastes. Chef, Restauranteur, and owner of Spicewalla, Meherwan Irani seems to come down on the side of Madras' powders "inauthenticity." However, the Indian owner of my local Indian grocery claims it is a traditional Indian masala.
I think the truth comes down somewhere in the middle. The cooks of Chennai have a unique spice powder that flavors their food, and Madras curry powder is based on that combination of spices. So, the word authentic is hard to define. Even in Chennai, the ingredients and balance of spices for their go-to blend will vary from cook to cook.
One of the many beauties of making a homemade masala is that you can enjoy unique flavors while controlling the heat level. Of course, I have made this recipe to my taste. And I encourage you to do that also after you make this recipe at least once.
What is Special About the Recipe
- Freshly ground spices add a vibrance to your curry
- You are able to control the heat and salt levels
- Homemade Madras curry is cheaper than store-bought
- There are no mysterious additives
- Tailor-make the spice mix to your taste
Madras curry powder is made with the favorite whole spices of Tamil Nadu. You will need:
- Fenugreek seeds
- Mustard seeds
- Black peppercorns
- Dried or powdered chilies
- And ground turmeric
If you want to play with additional flavors, here are five more spices to include, depending on the cook:
- Star anise
- Indian bay leaf
- Curry leaves
- Granulated garlic
- Long pepper (pippali)
Note: Long pepper is a harder-to-find member of the black pepper family. However, it has more complex notes of clove, nutmeg, pine, and vanilla. It can be used in place of, or in addition to black pepper.
How to Make Madras Curry Powder
In a dry skillet over medium-low heat add the whole dried chilies and toast until fragrant. If you are substituting ground chili, skip this step.
Toast the rest of the spices except for the ground turmeric.
Toast the dried chilies
Toast the rest of the spices
Allow the spices to cool for 5 minutes, then grind into a fine powder using a spice (coffee) grinder or mortar and pestle.
While the spices are cooling, measure out the turmeric (and ground chili if using instead of whole chilies) and place it into a lidded container large enough to hold the finished spice mix.
Grind the toasted spices into a fine powder using a spice (coffee) grinder, or mortar and pestle. Thoroughly mix with the turmeric.
Tips and Tricks
- Don't be tempted to use a higher heat. Moderate heat gives time for the flavors to develop and ensures the spices don't burn. This will take about 2 minutes, or until the spices are fragrant.
- This spice blend has a lot of turmeric which stains fabrics and plastic containers, so handle it with that in mind.
- While you should adjust the heat level, keep an eye on the overall spice combination so your curry is still well-balanced.
Questions & Answers
Madras curry powder adds in ground chili, more turmeric, fenugreek, and mustard.
Yes! As long as you work within the range of whole or ground chili in the recipe. This curry powder is wonderfully flavorful without a lot of heat.
So far, besides this homemade Madras spice mix, I have tried Swad Madras chili powder. It was good but not as complex as my blend, however, it was great in a pinch. I have also used Frontier Co-op's Curry Powder with Coriander, Turmeric, and Mustard. While this wasn't called Madras curry powder, the ingredients were similar and it made a good substitute. Next up are the Sun Brand Madras curry powder and Spicewalla's Madras blend.
Absolutely! Just keep an eye on the heat level in your recipe. Madras curry powder has at least some chili powder, while most "regular" curry powders typically don't.
How to Store
The masala will keep well in an air-tight container in a dark place for one to two months. You can tell when it is past its prime if the blend is no longer fragrant. You can also pop the spice mix in the freezer for up to 6 months.
How to Use
Regardless of its origins, this curry powder is a great back-pocket flavor bomb to use in your Indian curries. Madras curry powder is one of the best spices for chicken. It also goes beautifully with lamb, beef, seafood, or tofu.
It is a nice surprise in non-Indian dishes as well. Even just a pinch will add a depth of flavor and a welcome extra something to your food.
And have fun exploring more South Indian recipes!
Other Spice Mixes & a Madras Curry
Did you try this recipe? I’d love to hear about it! Please rate by clicking stars ⭐️ on the recipe card and/or let me know in the comments section. Thank you! ~Alonna
Recipe Card 📖
Hot or Mild Madras Curry Powder Recipe
Madras Curry Powder Ingredients
- 2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
- 2 teaspoons cumin seed
- 2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 2 teaspoons black or brown mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 cinnamon stick ~ Broken into pieces. Ideally, cassia.
- 5 whole cloves
- 1 to 5 whole dried Kashmiri chilies ~ See Notes below
- 2 tablespoons turmeric ~ Do not toast
- 1 star anise ~ Broken into a couple of pieces
- 1 Indian bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon granulated garlic ~ Don't toast
- 1/4 teaspoon long pepper ~ Don't toast. About long pepper
- 2 sprigs fresh curry leaves ~ 12 to 14 leaves. See Notes below
- Gather all your ingredients.
- Using a mortar and pestle or a heavy pan, crush the cinnamon into a couple of pieces.
- In a dry skillet over medium-low heat add the whole dried chilies and toast until fragrant. If you are substituting ground red chili, skip this step. Toast them until they are fragrant. This will take a minute or two.
- Add all the other spices (EXCEPT the turmeric) and toast for 2 to 3 minutes, shaking the pan constantly so that the spices toast evenly. Continue until they are fragrant and the fennel and coriander turn slightly darker. Depending on your pan and stove, this takes at least 2, and up to 5 minutes. It goes quickly so don’t walk away because the spices can burn and then you will need to start over.
- Immediately pour the spices into your spice blender, or mortar and pestle, so they can cool quickly.
- While the spices are cooling, measure the turmeric (and ground chili if using instead of whole chilies) and place it into a lidded container large enough to hold the finished spice mix.
- Grind the toasted spices into a fine powder using a spice (coffee) grinder, or mortar and pestle. Mix thoroughly with the turmeric.
- Store the Madras curry powder in a cool, dark place for up to two months. Freezing the powder will keep it fresh for up to six months. You will know when the Madras powder is no longer good to use when it no longer smells fragrant.
- Be sure to buy good-quality spices for your Madras curry powder.
- Choose your desired heat level: I like to use 2 Kashmir chilies and then in my recipe, another one teaspoon of ground Kashmiri chili. If you don't have whole chilies, use 1 teaspoon to one tablespoon of Kashmiri chili powder. OR, because it is much hotter, 1/2 to 2 teaspoons of cayenne. DO NOT toast the chili powders. If using whole dried chilies you can shake out most of the seeds, which will remove some of the heat.
- If using fresh curry leaves: Wash and dry thoroughly and toast by itself in a dry pan until lightly brown and completely dry.
- When toasting the spices, use medium-low heat so as to allow the essential oils from the spices to be activated before they get too brown. Don't be tempted to use a higher heat because moderate heat gives time for the flavors to develop.