Why Chaat Masala Deserves A Permanent Spot In Your Spice Rack

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Indian food is a sensory fantasia. Aromatic traditional dishes like aloo chaat, saag paneer, tandoori chicken, and many others feature a rainbow of colors and flavor profiles that are even more dynamic. Introducing one such complex Indian spice: chaat masala.

Chaat is a popular South Asian street snack, and chaat masala is the unique spice that makes it so beloved and impossible to replicate. As chef and television personality Maneet Chauhan tells The New York Times, the word "chaat" comes from the Hindi and Urdu word "chaatna" meaning "to lick." The descriptive verb illustrates the wide spectrum of tastes evoked by a single bite of chaat masala. It's a flavor rollercoaster of spicy, tangy, salty, sweet, harsh, sour, and bright – in waves or all at once. (Houston, we have liftoff.)

According to popular lore, chaat masala might have been invented by the cooks of Shah Jahan, a 17th-century Mogal emperor. While any definitive origin story has yet to be proven, one thing is certain: folks who love Indian food seem to have a special love for pungent, tangy, incomparable chaat masala. Chauhan even published a cookbook in 2020 in celebration of the spice and its namesake snack, simply titled "Chaat." So, what does it taste like?

It's time to get a little funky

Chaat masala rips out of the gate with a distinctly pungent, funky taste; black salt and amchur are the driving forces here. In case you haven't worked with it before, amchur is dried mango powder with a distinct fruity, sour taste. The strong flavor is intentionally overpowering, says Chauhan, but not unwelcomingly so.

McCormick's version of chaat masala is a combination of cumin, coriander, fennel, dried mint, thyme, ginger, Cayenne red pepper, black salt, and amchur. It's a mix of a lot of different bold spices that work together in symphonic harmony – more complicated that other Indian spices like garam masala, which you can quickly make yourself at home. Since it's made from a combination of so many different spices, it's not a bad idea to keep a jar of the premixed stuff in your spice rack permanently.

Chaat masala is a key ingredient in traditional Indian dishes like pani puri and papri chaat, but like any other spice, its uses are as expansive as your imagination allows. (Consider that a formal challenge.) Sprinkle chaat masala over roasted potatoes, fried vegetables, or on fresh mango slices like Tajin. Krishna likes it on grilled cheese and almond butter toast; her father sprinkles it into his ramen broth. Season the rim of a Bloody Mary glass with chaat masala for a tangy umami kick. For a snack, use a few teaspoons to make funky Chex Mix or popcorn. The world is your samosa.