Masala is a blend of many dry spices ground to form a powder mix that is used in Indian cooking. There are many variations of masala from the milder blend with a subtle flavour to stronger mixes that are hot and pungent. Most South African Indian masalas contain powdered chilli, cumin, fennel, clove, turmeric and white pepper. Other dried spices may also be included for various blends that are specifically used in certain dishes.

Masala is an essential spice in curry. It is used during the cooking phase although it is sometimes sprinkled over snacks like fried potato chips. The colour of masala varies from a lighter brown to yellow hue to darker maroon or even bright red mixes. Often this is achieved by adding powdered colouring agents. In South Africa, the use of Sudan Red to colour masala and other spices created a furore with the additive eventually being banned.

Garam masala is a hotter version of masala that is available globally. Over the years, South African Indians have developed their own unique blends of garam masala with names like “mother-in-law’s tongue” coined to add an amusing yet descriptive twist. The Victoria Street Market in the Durban city centre is well known for being a hub of the spice trade with vendors offering their house blends which were developed over decades.

Most food stores and retail outlets in South Africa now stock masala usually in pre-packed sachets. It has become an important part of the South African spice cupboard, not only for South African Indians, but other race groups as well. For the more discerning foodie, masala has to be made at home from the raw ingredients for the maximum flavour and aroma.