What Is A Masala Dabba?

Image of a person spooning from a masala dabba

A masala dabba is an Indian spice box that seems mundane at first glance, even to its owners, but when given deeper thought, holds great value. 

The circular steel container typically carries up to seven spices in individual compartments that are all stored under the one tin’s lid. In an Indian kitchen masala dabbas are where spices are stored and cherished.

Although a simple contraption, masala dabbas are held dearly. Your masala dabba is home to the spices used every day in your household; it’s an homage to the meals of your childhood, your culture, and the lands of past generations. 

In some Indian families, a masala dabba is passed down from kitchen to kitchen as an heirloom. What’s a better way to share your ancestry than through the spices used in your family’s everyday recipes?

Not only is a collection of spices symbolic and beautiful to look at, but it’s also simply a practical tool for Indian cooking. Masala dabbas have remained a staple in Indian kitchens, and their practicality has influenced others to reconsider their spice storage.

A Practical Way To Store Your Spices

Indian food is known for its bold and vibrant flavors, which can easily be accredited to the various spices used in every component of every dish. A masala box is the simplest way to keep all those spices on hand (literally).

The uncovering of a masala dabba marks the start of a meal’s preparation. The kitchen floods with copious aromas, and it’s time to get cooking. Rather than digging into your pantry and uncapping spice after spice, a masala dabba allows for all-in-one access to your seven most frequently used spices. 

The arrangement not only allows for easy access to your spices but encourages you to use them more frequently. When spices are constantly in view and ready to be used, why not add them to your dish?

A small spoon is typically kept with each spice and lives there. Spice spoons prevent cross-contamination and over portioning, but let’s be honest, a bit of spice mixing never hurts. Once you’re done cooking and spicing, you can re-lid your masala dabba, and put it in your pantry until it’s time to prepare your next meal.

What Spices Belong In A Masala Dabba?

The only consistency from masala dabba to masala dabba is the arrangement of seven spices, not which those spices are. 

You’ll often come across articles and cookbooks that detail “the seven spices of India;” the structure of a masala dabba inspires this concept. “The seven spices” are never the same across the board because Indian cuisine is intricate and varies by region and family. The different cuisines within India will give greater importance to different spices, making not one masala dabba the same.

The practicality of a masala dabba encourages many to own more than one. You can organize your spices by which ones you use for different kinds of cooking. Some chefs have one container for North Indian and another for South Indian cooking. Others separate their ground spices (turmeric, red chili powder, amchur/amchoor) and whole spices (cumin, coriander seeds, cinnamon sticks, nutmeg).

If you have two kinds of cooking styles that you alternate between, consider owning two masala dabbas, even if you’re not cooking traditional Indian foods. You can organize them by sweet and savory or even Chinese and Mexican; it’s genuinely dependent on your cooking style.

6 Spices We Recommend You Add To Your Masala Dabba For Indian Cooking:

  • Cumin
  • Dried ground coriander
  • Dried cardamom pods
  • Red chili powder
  • Garam masala
  • Turmeric

How To Take Care Of Your Masala Dabba

Masala dabbas are practical, efficient, and, best of all, easy to care for. Most masala dabbas are made of stainless steel, making them durable and easy to wash when need be.

Because your spices are kept in one container, you don’t have to worry about cleaning out your pantry or emptying your spice carousel. When it’s time to clean your masala dabba, simply remove each spice container and give it a quick rinse.

The individual containers won’t need much washing as they’ll almost always be refilled with the same spices, but when you’ve emptied one, feel free to wash it out and either refill or replace your spice.

Masala dabbas can be beautiful tools that live on your counter or in your cabinets, ensuring your spices stay fresh for months on end. If you see yourself using one often, consider investing in a high-quality masala dabba that will last a long time and maybe even be passed down. 

A Representation of You

A masala dabba is rich with symbolism and robust spices. With roots in India, masala dabbas have found their way around the world and into many kitchens.

From moms carrying on a tradition to first-year college students just getting started and even world-renowned chefs, masala dabbas are a tribute to cooking inspired by culture, familiarity, and care. Your masala dabba is a representation of you and where you’ve come from.

Try cooking with a masala dabba; you’ll find that unleashing your creativity, passion, and love into every meal comes with ease.

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