This homemade biryani masala is going to spice up your life like never before! There is nothing like a freshly made spice mix to take your dishes up a notch.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Table of contents
What is Biryani Masala?
It is an aromatic spice mix for cooking biryani. It contains many of the spices that we use in cooking South Asian dishes, and a little more, like black cardamom, ajwain and mace.
If truth be told, you don’t really need a biryani spice mix per se. Think of it like garam masala, you don’t have to use it, but if you do, it enhances your biryani and deepens the flavour.
Many cooks are perfectly happy using the usual ground and whole spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli powder, and black cardamom. However, many also like to use a ground spice mix that includes all these whole spices and more. It’s a masala that has high and low aromas and a plenitude of flavours.
You can also use this biryani masala as garam masala when a recipe calls for it. They share similar ingredients with the odd difference, namely the Kashmiri chillies.
Biryani Spice Mix Recipe
Growing up in Singapore and Malaysia, many of us are used to spice mixes. When I was young, we would get our wet masalas freshly ground by an old Indian lady at the market. I have many memories of my granny sending me down with a specific order, depending on what she needed the masala for. More fennel, less chilli, more coriander, and so on.
In my first year in the UK, I lived in West Ealing, a very cosmopolitan area. My local grocer, 2 minutes down the road was run by Mr Ghulam and sometimes, his wife. I spent a lot of time at Mr Ghulam’s shop. You can read more about this over on my Kashmiri Cuisine page on LinsFood.
I used to moan to them that every biryani masala was just too spicy (and I’m a spicy kind of girl!).
So one day, they sat me down, and over a cup of masala chai and samosas, proceeded to tell me how to make my own. And then, the following Sunday, I popped down to cook biryani with Mrs Ghulam; that was the day I stopped using ready made biryani masalas.
I’ve tweaked the Ghulams’ biryani recipe a little over the years, as one does. I’m not a fan of nutmeg, and leave it out altogether, although I do use mace. I also find black cardamom a little overpowering, so only use 1 in my biryani spice mix.
Biryani Masala Ingredients
So it’s pretty easy, you just have to source out all the ingredients first. The black cardamom is probably the only thing you will have to make an effort for. I’m lucky with where I live, we have all sorts of grocers and supermarkets, I’m spoilt for choice.
You will also need a spice mill, or a coffee grinder.
My list for Biryani Masala:
- dried Indian bay leaves
- dried Kashmiri chillies
- coriander seeds
- cumin seeds
- fennel seeds
- ajwain seeds (carom seeds)
- green cardamom pods
- black cardamom
- star anise
- black peppercorns
A slightly deeper look at some of the spices mentioned above:
Indian Bay Leaves
Cinnamomum tamala in Latin, the Indian bay leaf is quite different from the more common Mediterranean laurel bay leaf.
Known as tej patta in Hindi, they are longer and thinner than the regular bay, and are not herbal at all. The Indian bay leaf has cinnamon and clove aroma and flavour.
The regular bay leaf is not a substitute for the Indian bay, having a different aromatic composition. However, I am a huge fan of the Mediterranean version, and quite often use it in South Asian and Middle Eastern recipes too. If you don’t have access to tej patta, leave it out altogether. Or use a regular bay just for the fun of it!
Dried Kashmiri Chillies
At just 1000 – 2000 Scoville units, Kashmiri chillies are super mild chillies, and are grown for their vibrant red colour and fruity flavour. So don’t worry, our biryani masala isn’t going to be spicy!
Sadly, most of what passes as Kashmiri chilli products outside of India, is not the real thing. If your Kashmiri chilli (whole or powdered) has even a little bit of heat, you know it’s not the real thing. So just get your hands on any mild chilli powder.
Anyone in the US, this means just ground up dried red chillies, with nothing else. What is called cayenne powder in your neck of the woods.
Black Cardamom in Biryani Masala
The black cardamom is a dark brown colour, and much larger than the common green cardamom. Known as the Queen of spices, it has a very commanding presence with its smoky and woody aroma from being dried on an open fire. It adds an earthy depth to our biryani masala and whatever recipes it’s used in.
There are actually two kinds of black cardamom, but the one we are concerned with, called badi elaichi is amomum subulatum. It is also known as the Nepal cardamom and Bengal cardamom.
If you are going to regularly cook Indian and Pakistani dishes, then you really want to get your hands on the black cardamom.
Ajwain seeds are also known as carom seeds and Bishop’s weed. Native to southern India, they are used in many cuisines around the world, including Ethiopian and Afghani.
They have a slightly peppery, thyme-like aroma, and for Singaporeans and Malaysians, if you think you’ve never come across it before, think again. It’s the spice used in Murukku. So if you’ve eaten murukkus before, you’ve definitely had ajwain seeds.
In fact, that’s what my kids identify it with, and Bombay Mix, the murukku and nut mix sold in the UK. They add a lovely lift to our biryani masala.
Mace in Biryani Masala
Mace blades are the outer covering of nutmegs which are carefully removed and dried in the sun before being used. They are a deep, burnt orange colour and have a tangy and lemony aroma with traces of nutmeg.
They should be easily available in the spice aisle of your supermarkets.
And this is what we’ll be doing:
- dry roast all the whole spices then cool completely
- grind to a powder
- store in a spice jar
Video coming soon!
If you want to make your biryani masala with ground spices, hey, I’m not going to judge.
And on that note, shall we get grinding?
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Homemade Biryani Masala
- frying pan
- large, flat plate
- spice mill
- small spice jar
- 2 dried bay leaf read post explanation
- 3 dried Kashmiri chillies or any dried, non smoky chillies
- 1 mace blade or 1 tsp, if yours is in broken pieces
- 1 medium star anise
- 1 small cinnamon stick, about 5cm (2 inches)
- 5 cloves
- 6 green cardamom pods
- 1 black cardamom
- 1 Tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- ¼ tsp fennel seeds
- ¼ ajwain seeds omit if unavailable
- 1 tsp black peppercorns or half, for a milder masala
- Heat a small frying pan on medium-low heat and dry toast the bay leaves, Kashmiri chillies and mace blade for 2 minutes. Shake the pan constantly or use a spatula to flip the ingredients. Tip out onto a large plate.
- Follow this by the star anise, cinnamon stick, cloves and both cardamoms. Fry for another 2 minutes, shaking the pan constantly, but keep an eye on the spices. If the green cardamom starts to brown before that, take it off the heat and tip out onto the same plate as above.
- Reduce the heat to low and tip in the rest of the ingredients, so all the seeds: coriander, cumin, fennel, ajwain and black peppercorns. Keep shaking the pan and toast for 1 minute. Don't let them burn. Take the off the heat earlier if you have to. Tip out onto the plate.
- Leave the toasted spices to cool completely. This takes about 12-15 minutes.
- Break the chillies and bay leaves up and drop them into the spice mill and grind for 10 seconds.
- Tip everything else in and grind to a fine powder. Video is coming in a few days!
- Transfer to a spice jar and store with the rest of your spices. I would use it within 3 months, as like all spices, its aroma starts mellowing.But I'm only giving you a small amount here, enough to cook biryani for 8-12 people. Recipe coming soon.