Some of the standard ingredients of curry powder are cumin, coriander, cinnamon, mace and nutmeg. Other ingredients consistently used include fenugreek, fennel, tamarind, cardamom and cloves. The curry powder commonly found in Western markets derives its trademark yellow color from turmeric.
It is not uncommon for curry powder to also contain varieties of seeds, such as sesame and poppy, which are ground together with the accompanying spices. Whether the curry powder is store-bought or homemade, its pungency dissipates quickly. A single batch of powder may retain its flavor for approximately two months, if stored conscientiously in an air-tight container. In authentic South Asian cooking, curry powder is never made in bulk or made beforehand.
Instead, traditional cooks make fresh batches as required for specific occasions or recipes. Of these traditional preparations, two general types prevail: the standard and the hotter Madras variety. South Asian home cooks, particularly woman, often keep their primary spices in the separate compartments of a special box called a masala dabba, in which they can arrange spices of any configuration they desire. It is not uncommon to see certain lentils, such as Bengal gram, represented in these traditional boxes as well. Masala dabbas are frequently given as wedding gifts to young brides by their mothers.