The formula for making Japanese curry powder

As I wrote in the Beef Curry recipe, I don’t make my own curry powder. Lomo asked in the comments about the “secret” 15 to 20 spices that make up curry powder. After poking around a bit on Japanese web sites, I came up with this page that describes what goes into S & B curry powders, the most popular brand by far in Japan. It’s an official S & B page, so should be accurate, though as you can see the percentages given have a pretty wide range. I guess it’s because the actual formulas are ‘secret’. In any case it gives a starting point for any experimentation I think.

I’ve also included a recipe for making garam masala. Note that I make no claims whatsoever that these are authentic mixes for Indian or other curries, but I’m talking here about Japanese curry.

The following is a rough summary/translation of the Japanese article.

Japanese curry powder

These basic four spices make up 80 to 90% of the mix:

  • Turmeric (20-50%)
  • Coriander (20-30%)
  • Cumin (5-25%)
  • Cardamon (5-15%)

Then the following ‘hot’ spices make up about 5% of the blend. If you want to increase the amount of hot spices, decrease the turmeric accordingly.

  • Black pepper (2-8%)
  • Chili (cayenne) pepper (0.5 - 2%)

The remaining 5-15% is taken up with aromatic spices. Adjusting these spices makes the powder distinctive.

  • Clove (3-5%)
  • Fennel (1-2%

All of the above are the basic spices (that go into all the powders, I assume).

Other spices, herbs and so on are added to give distinction to each blend, such as:

  • Cinnamon
  • Star anise
  • Allspice
  • Nutmeg
  • Fenugreek
  • Bay leaf
  • Sage
  • Oregano (“and other herbs”, not specified)
  • Cocoa powder
  • Coffee powder

They say to limit the amount of ‘other’ ingredients to about 1-2% of the total.

To make up the curry powder, roast the spices (I think they assume you are starting out with ground spices) in a dry frying pan for about 2-3 minutes. Cool the spices, and if possible let them mature in a cool, dark place for about a month before using.

Note that a good garam masala mix will contain the aromatic spices like cloves and fennel too. Here’s a standard garam masala mixture from an old Japanese curry cookbook I have, if you’d like to make up your own, starting from whole spices:

Garam Masala (a la Japonaise?)

  • 4 sticks of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup cardamon pods
  • 1/3 cup cloves
  • 1/3 cumin
  • 1/4 cup coriander
  • 1/3 cup black pepper
  • 1/3 cup white pepper

Put all of the above onto a baking sheet, and roast in a 90°C / 195°F oven. Roast for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Take the cardamon out of the pods. Grind it all up in a mixer, dividing up if necessary, until ground to a fine powder. (Note: nowadays I would use an electric coffee mill reserved for spices.) Store in an airtight jar.

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Cool Curry

This is great! I’m definitely going to formulate my own powder based on this post next time I make Japanese curry. I usually use the curry roux, which I’m sure is really bad to a purist.
Thanks!

Sarah | 9 February, 2007 - 21:59

using the roux

Using the roux is not necessarily bad…as long as you know what you’re getting in there. Only the big brands tend to make it onto the shelves of groceries outside of Japan, except for the really big Japanese supermarkets like Mitsuwa, so you only get the lower end of the curry roux spectrum. In Japan there are low to high end roux mixes…even some famous curry or yohshoku restaurants sell mixes. And, I should say that most Japanese people only cook curry with the roux. (I use roux sometimes myself too…)

maki | 10 February, 2007 - 08:34

Curry roux

Absolutely, most people here use roux. Like you say, there are some really good ones out there if you poke around. CoCo Ichi even makes a decent roux, though they only sell it in their curry shops.

I’m definitely going to try this, though I’m not sure if I can wait the month for it to be ready…now I’m feeling hungry!

Ken | 10 February, 2007 - 10:31

Curry Powder

Maki,

I was a bit surprised that my last question prompted a full post, but then curry powders are serious business. In fact, it would appear they are a multi-million dollar business in Japan (every grocery has an entire aisle dedicated to the stuff). Thank you for your help and pointing me in the right direction.

I felt at the very least, obligated to give the curry powder a try. So I did! And, I would have earlier but this project involved a bit of math.

Where to start? The recipe as given to us by the S & B boys is a little vague. Knowing nothing about blending my own Japanese curry powder (I do know a little of Indian curry powder, but then I have also been told, on good authority, that there is no such thing as an Indian curry powder), I went down the middle with all the spices.

For the ‘basic four’: Turmeric 35%, Coriander 25%, Cumin 15%, and Cardamon 10%. For the ‘spicy’ spices: Black Pepper 5% and Chili Pepper 1.25%. For the ‘aromatic’ spices: Clove 4% and Fennel 1.5%. And finally with the ‘spices of distinction’: Cinnamon 0.75%, Star Anise 0.75%, Allspice 0.75%, and Nutmeg 0.75%. My feeling here with the ‘spices of distinction’, is that the Cinnamon, Star Anise, Allspice, and Nutmeg might add up to be something like a Chinese Five Spice but then there are only four of them. As far as the herbs (Sage, Oregano, etc… ) are concerned, the have no place in curry. The bay leaf (it is technically an herb, isn’t it?) goes in the stew pot and coffee is what the Japanese drink with their curry (at least they used to). That brings us to a grand total of 99.75%. The other 0.25% remain secret. On to the curry…

I followed your recipe with a few substitutions. I used my curry powder, I substituted katsuobushi dashi for the bullion cube (it was in the fridge), and I used a persimmon rather than an apple.

And as I sit here now, enjoying a large bowl of ‘authentic’ Japanese curry (with rakkyo and a bottle of Traminer Aromatico)… this is better than the stuff from the box. There is a tremendous depth of flavor and a polite burning sensation on my lips and tongue. It took a little longer than the stuff from the box, but my curry powder will only get better as it ages over the next month (apparently).

Next time… I channel my inner Cajun and take the roux to shades of brown only previously imagined.

Thanks for the help,

Lomo

Lomo | 11 February, 2007 - 15:21

Re: Curry Powder

Actually, bay leaves are quite a common ingredient in Indian curries & spice blends, although it would usually be a slightly different type of bay leaf, called "tejpat", which is closely related to the European bay leaf but tastes more like cinnamon. Although obviously tejpat would be more authentic it is quite common to substitute with European bay leaf when the Indian kind isn't available.

MrsHmmz. | 22 November, 2012 - 20:42

Re: Curry Powder

Did you miss out on Ginger powder and Thyme for some reason?

Georgy Gaitanin | 28 July, 2013 - 00:01

wow

Thanks for that account Lomo! Now you’ve made me want to mix up my own curry powder…

maki | 11 February, 2007 - 19:15

curry joy

I have been intending to comment on this for quite some time- I can’t tell you how happy I am to see this recipe. Because I can’t have wheat, I have never had proper Japanese curry due to the roux part of it- and now I can finally try it! DH is also very fond of Japanese curry, so I know he will be ecstatic as well. :D

Thanks for coming up with this recipe!!!

Gratefully,
Sea

sea | 26 March, 2007 - 18:44

hurray for healthy authentic curry

Thanks for putting together this post—having spent a year in Japan I love Japanese curry. I do not however love the sugar, fats and wheat in the pre-made roux so i’m looking forward to using your recipe.

FYI i found this web site that lists a true recipe that aligns with the percentages shown on your web site: japanese curry powder recipe

Hänni | 8 August, 2008 - 18:18

Japanese Curry

Thanks for the wonderful post! I’m so impressed I’m going to print it out and keep it in my cookbook.

Red

Red | 1 December, 2008 - 02:06

coriander

1/4 cup of coriander.
That refers to coriander seeds right? Not dried coriander leaves.. or fresh coriander leaves. Can't wait to try it! I haven't had much time lately!

mika | 23 May, 2009 - 22:47

Re: coriander

Yep it's whole coriander seeds.

maki | 24 May, 2009 - 07:18

Re: The formula for making Japanese curry powder

Thanks for the recipe. I have a spice grinder and many whole spices I use for indian recipes but I’d never before thought to try and make a Japanese curry roux from scratch. You inspired me to make my own and it was delicious and I’m sure much healthier than the average curry block.

Furthering the discussion on what blend of spices to use I found this recipe when I was reading about a GABAN make your own Kare-ko set (on sale in Japan for about Y600). The kit contains 20 bags of spice powders and recipe book detailing a number of different blends. This was the only recipe I could find...

Turmeric: 20g
Cumin Powder: 14g
Coriander: 12g
*チンピ (Chinpi): 10g 
Fenugreek: 5g
Fennel: 5g
Cinnamon: 4g
Cayenne Pepper: 3g
Garlic Granule: 3g
Ginger: 3g
Dill Powder: 3g
All Spice: 2g
Cardamon: 2g
Cloves: 2g
Star Anise: 2g
Sage: 2g
Thyme: 2g
Nutmeg: 2g
Black Pepper: 2g
Bay leaves : 2g

*I have never used or even heard of ‘chinpi’ before. I guess it’s powdered orange peel?? I’m a bit worried it would produce a curry which tastes overpoweringly of orange. Oh well, If I can find powdered orange peel for sale in UK I will be adventurous and give it a go when I make up my next batch of curry powder.

LS | 14 June, 2009 - 21:27

Re: The formula for making Japanese curry powder

I believe that チンピ (chinpi) is dried orange/tangerine peel, probably ground into a powder. For more of an idea, do a google images search.

chinou2 | 6 October, 2009 - 10:09

Thank you for finding this recipe!

I needed a Japanese curry powder recipe because I really like Japanese curry, but I don't like MSG (which is in every Japanese curry roux I've found). I skimmed over your translation and then read the Japanese site in more detail.

I'm confused about the part where you cook the spices in a pan. My Japanese reading skills aren't great by a long shot, but I think that part says:

"After mixing, stir fry in a fry pan at low heat for 2-3 minutes max so you don't burn it."

Stir fry ("itatte kudasai") sounds like it ought to involve oil or butter, yet you say to do that part in a dry pan.

Also, is the turmeric really necessary? If it's only for color and doesn't affect the taste, can I just skip it?

Do you know how necessary it is to age the stuff for one month? I don't want to wait that long to eat curry.

Megan | 2 February, 2010 - 03:05

Re: Thank you for finding this recipe!

Hi Megan
There's a chance that Maki may not be able to respond for a little while as she's busy with the laborious and time intensive task of preparing her recipes for photoshoots for her book. In the meantime, I'll have a shot at answering, you've said you're keen to start.
I do know that it is standard to dry roast those spices in a pan in order to bring out their fragrance and flavours (spices can pop alarmingly in oil) so I'm certain that Maki's interpretation is correct.
Turmeric has a distinctive, slightly musty flavour of its own, even if it does seem comparatively mild compared to the other spices. Perhaps you could add a teeny touch of ground ginger as a substitute if you're intent on leaving it out?
(I know from Thai food that cilantro root, which also has a musty flavour, plays a key part in recipes even though only a tiny amount is used and the flavour is barely perceptible)
Maki says that the part about aging is optional. By dry roasting and grinding your own curry powder you're going to have something much better than what most people use - a commercially sold spice mix that's been languishing at the back of a cupboard for years!

Loretta | 3 February, 2010 - 20:13

re- megan

Turmeric is not only for color,but it has its own distintive taste.But make sure you dont exagerate with turmeric because it has bitter taste.Turmeric also has theurapatic benifits,japanese scientist had disc overed that it helps to fight against certain cancer and alzheimer diseases.

miky | 3 February, 2010 - 16:05

Re: The formula for making Japanese curry powder

On the subject of roasting spices.

I recently watched a show in which one of the worlds best Thai chefs spoke about roasting spices.

Only whole spices need roasting as you can't really roast powder. He said roast each spice individually as each spice has different burn characteristics e.g. cumin roasts very very fast. Oil is not used as you will be grinding to a powder in most cases and the oil will get in the way. Roast until you can smell the aromatics then remove from heat. Let the spices cool then grind in a coffee/spice grinder.

I hope that helps.

Stuart | 22 February, 2010 - 17:21

Shelf life?

I am very anxious to make this! I have one question. I like to make larger quantities of things so that I am not making it over and over again. If I make the curry powder recipe, can I double or triple it and keep the unused portion for a length of time? I would love to make the powder and then have it on hand for when we have a craving for curry and the powder already made. If I can keep it, do you know how long it will keep? Should it live in the refrigerator?

mitsuko | 17 June, 2010 - 23:06

Re: The formula for making Japanese curry powder

I am an Indian cook well-versed in the art of roasted/unroasted spices. Please do not roast turmeric, nor the sage.

Turmeric: 20g Do NOT roast
Cumin Powder: 14g Roast whole seed, lightly
Coriander: 12g ditto

Fenugreek: 5g ditto [turns bitter fast]
Fennel: 5g whole, lightly
Cinnamon: 4g actually cassia bark, light roast
Cayenne Pepper: 3g not necessary to roast, Korean kochugaru good flavor color
Garlic Granule: 3g NEVER roast!!
Ginger: 3g LIKEWISE, never roast ginger powder!!
Dill Powder: 3g Dill OR ANISE seed better left unroasted
All Spice: 2g roasting does NOTHING to improve flavor
Cardamon: 2g Green cardamon, roast in husk or do not
Cloves: 2g same as above
Star Anise: 2g roast very lightly
Sage: 2g NO roasting
Thyme: 2g NO "
Nutmeg: 2g NO
Black Pepper: 2g very light, if at all
Bay leaves : 2g Cassia leaf, very light; if Bay leaf, Laurus nobilis, NO roast.

Thank you.

anon. | 24 June, 2010 - 01:05

Re: The formula for making Japanese curry powder

Friend, I am into the research of Curry Blends available in india and Abroad, I am in this business since last more than 25 years and was also in the advisory committee (NR) of Spices Board of india.

would like to be in touch with you and share our experiences and expertise for personal use and if possible exploit the same Commercially to our mutual benefits as My company is in the business of Export of Spices.

Yogendra D. Thakker

awaiting your response

YOGENDRA D. THAKKER | 31 December, 2010 - 03:34

chinpi

I forgot to address the 'chinpi' question before, but it's what's called Chinese cinnamon in the west. You can just use regular cinnamon instead.

Incidentally I've used that Gaban curry powder kit. The curry powder it produces is fine really, but I dont quite see the point of it, since all the spices are pre-ground anyway, and the kit itself is quite expensive. But it's sort of fun to know what goes into a Japanese curry powder. I made up a batch and left it in a jar at my mother's, where I'm fairly sure it's going to languish unused until I go there again (my mother is not a curry fan...)

maki | 24 June, 2010 - 05:53

I think チンピ == Chenpi

Hello, a Wikipedia search for チンピ redirects to the Japanese page for http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chenpi

I think the tangerine powder wins! No "Japanese Cinnamon" here... that is probably http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/ヤブニッケイ

Thanks everybody...

Douglas | 25 August, 2010 - 20:33

Re: The formula for making Japanese curry powder

Thnx everybody esp Maki for this wonderful article and the informative discussion.

Like everyone here I'm very particular about the ingredients put into the commersial endproduct.

My family are ardent fans of Japanese food especially the Rice Curry. Now I don't have to spend a fortune buying the curry cubes - freeze large batch of the ground mix b'cos my kitchen scale's not suitable to measure small serving.

Regards

mase | 23 January, 2012 - 05:11

Re: The formula for making Japanese curry powder

Your recipe for garam masala is reasonably authentic (speaking as an Indian who cooks). Some recipes are more stripped-down, calling for equal proportions of five spices: cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, star anise (or fennel) and black pepper. While cumin and coriander are also used extensively in many of the recipes that call for garam masala, they are usually added separately and in varying proportions based on the desired effect: garam-masala itself is used to achieve a hot-and-sweet-spice flavor.

One secret - try grinding your spices fresh, and make small quantities that you use up quickly - unless you use a small container with a tight seal, ground spices tend to use their flavor rapidly because their essential oils volatize.

Prakash Nadkarni | 29 February, 2012 - 22:24

Re: The formula for making Japanese curry powder

I clicked on the link for the page on rakuten, and now it gives teaspoon measures. I can barely read any Japanese, though, so could you update this post? I love Japanese curry! Thank you for your recipe, because I made it a few times and it was great.

anon. | 3 January, 2014 - 19:59

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