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Masala refers to a mixture or blend of spices. The word masala literally means mixture in Hindi, Bengali and Urdu. It is a prime feature of South Asian cuisines. Masala can be prepared with dry or wet ingredients. Dry masala may be prepared by powdering roasted spices such as black pepper, cumin, dried chillies, cinnamon, cardamom, etc. Wet masala may be prepared by grinding ingredients such as garlic, coriander leaves, mint leaves, ginger, green chillies, etc.

History of Masala

The origin of masala can be traced back to the time when spices were discovered, mixed and used. The first usage of spice or masala ingredients is believed to be around 50,000 years. In India masala developed in parallel with and influenced by Ayurveda-the ancient practice of medicine which made use of herbs and spices extensively.

Culinary Uses of the Masala

Masala recipes or masalas are varied and incorporate different spice ingredients. They can be made to suit different purposes such as seasoning beverages like tea. Wet masalas must be used up soon enough while dry masalas can be preserved in containers for use over a longer period of time.

Popular Masala Recipes

· Green Masala (Hara Masala) is a masala recipe made by blending green herbs including coriander, mint leaves, green chillies and ginger.

· Garam Masala is a masala recipe resulting in aromatic blend of Indian spices.

· Chaat Masala is a quintessential Indian masala recipe, a tangy condiment that perks up the flavours of salads, legumes, fruit, grilled fish and meats, potatoes and other vegetables.

· Madrasi Masala is a South Indian masala recipe containing a blend of both wet and dry ingredients.

· Chai Masala is a masala recipe for making spice blend for flavouring tea.

Cuisines Using Masala

Masala is popular in South Asian cuisines especially in India and Pakistan. In India masalas are varied according to regions. There are different masala mixes from Punjabi, Bengali, Kashmiri, Haryanvi, Rajasthani, Gujarati, Marathi, Kannada, Andhra, Tamil and Kerala cuisines. In Pakistan masalas are prepared and added to curries, rice preparations and meat dishes.

Preferable Cooking Methods For Masala

Masalas can be added differently to recipes. Wet masalas may be added to dishes in the beginning or towards the end of cooking. Wet masalas can also be used as marinate mixes. The same with dry masalas. However in some masala recipes, they are diluted with water or liquid, added to the dish and cooked.

Nutritive Value of Masala

Masalas are different and hence the nutritional aspects of different masalas are different. Generally masala powders donot contain calories. However they tend to possess medicinal aspects due to the usage of herbs and spices in them. Masalas making use of ingredients such as coconut, dry fruits and cream would be rich in cholesterol.

Masala Buying and Storing Tips

Masalas that are dry can be stored for a longer period of time by placing in airtight containers. Masala mixes are normally dry roasted and powdered. They can be powdered without being roasted either. They must be kept in cool, dark and dry place and away from heat and sunlight. Wet masalas must be made freshly and used soon enough. They may last for a day or two when refrigerated.