Green cardamom is a common spice that many people have in their spice racks. But what is black cardamom?
Black cardamom is a flavorful spice that goes by many names.
These names include Hill cardamom, brown cardamom, and Bengal cardamom.
If you’ve heard of any of those, then you’ve heard of black cardamom. Still, hearing about a thing does not mean you know what it is.
So, what is black cardamom? Keep reading to find out!
This article will tell you everything, from its varieties to how to use it. And more!
What Is Black Cardamom?
Black cardamom is a spice derived from the perennial black cardamom plant. This plant is a member of the Zingiberaceae family and is closely related to ginger.
It is also related to turmeric and, of course, green cardamom. However, its taste is quite distinct from its green cousin.
Black cardamom grows wild in the Eastern Himalayan region. They cultivate it in Nepal, India, and certain areas in China.
The spice comes from the dried fruit pods of the black cardamom plant. The pods are large, coarse, and brown or black.
People use the spice in whole and ground forms, most often in savory dishes. You will find it in various Asian and Indian recipes.
There are multiple varieties of black cardamom. The most popular ones include:
- Amomum tsao-ko. Most people use this variety in Chinese dishes.
- Amomum subulatum. You’ll find this smaller variety more often in Indian fare.
- Aframomum. This spice grows in Somalia and Madagascar. It frequently pops up in African dishes.
- Grains of Paradise. This West African variety often finds its way to American markets.
Though each variety has a distinct appearance, they share similar flavor profiles. Some may be more spicy or aromatic than others.
But they are a lot alike.
Black Cardamom vs. Green Cardamom
Though they share the name cardamom, black and green cardamom are NOT the same.
In fact, they come from two different plants.
Also, growers harvest green cardamom before it is mature. They harvest black cardamom when it is mature.
Black cardamom is far more potent than the green version. It delivers a strong dose of menthol flavor in every bite.
But green cardamom is more delicate and less smoky.
Green cardamom often appears in sweet recipes. But black cardamom has primarily savory uses.
You can substitute green cardamom for black.* But you cannot do the opposite.
*Note: The flavor will still differ when swapping green for black cardamom. There will be no smokiness and an overall milder flavor.
What Does Black Cardamom Taste Like?
Black cardamom has a wonderful unique flavor. Part of it comes from the spice itself; and partly from how it’s dried. (Over an open fire.)
This unique drying method imparts a rich smokiness to the already flavorful spice. It tastes smoky, minty, heady, warm, and bold.
You’ll notice menthol, camphor, and resin notes in the spice. It is warming and savory- often lumped with seasonings like black pepper and cloves.
How to Cook with Black Cardamom
As mentioned, black cardamom comes in whole and ground forms. Which version you have will determine how you cook with it.
However, unlike green cardamom, black cardamom is more often cooked whole.
Many people fry it in oil to release its scent and flavor. Then, they add the cooked cardamom to their recipes.
Other cooking methods for whole pods include:
- Crushing the pods so that the seeds are visible
- Adding it whole to stews and soups that cook slowly
If you have ground black cardamom, sprinkle it into the recipe. Remember, though, that this is powerful stuff – a little goes a long way.
You can also turn whole pods into powdered cardamom.
- Remove the outer skin and grind the seeds in a coffee grinder.
- Grind the entire pod and strain it to remove the skin.
People use black cardamom most frequently in Chinese rice dishes or Indian curries.
However, it also flavors spice rubs, marinades, and various African dishes.
Culinary Uses of Black Cardamom
Black cardamom is far more versatile than most people realize. Here are some of the best ways to use it:
- Indian curries. Add whole pods to the simmering curry to infuse a smoky flavor. Remove the pods before serving the dish.
- Rice dishes. Add a couple of pods to the water when cooking rice. It makes it incredibly rich and flavorful.
- Discard the pods along with the water.
- Spice blends. You can add ground black cardamom to many different spice blends and rubs. It adds complexity and depth to the flavor profile.
- Mix it with coriander, cloves, cumin, and cinnamon for a delicious product.
- Slow-cooked stews. The slow cooking process helps extract black cardamom’s intense smoky flavor.
- Add just a few pods to the stew while it simmers. Remove them before serving.
- Marinades and sauces. Ground black cardamom works best for these things. But crushed pods would suffice in a pinch.
- The smoky flavor pairs well with grilled or roasted dishes.
- Tea and beverages. Crush the pods to release their essence before adding them to water or tea leaves. You can also use it in cocktails like spiced rum.
You can even use black cardamom in desserts. However, this is one of the rarer uses for the spice.
It adds an exotic and aromatic touch to cookies, cakes, and ice creams.
Remember, it has a super-strong flavor. Add it to desserts sparingly, or you will overpower the other ingredients.
Where to Buy
You can find ground black cardamom in most grocery stores. Look for it in the spice aisle with the other spices and seasonings.
As for whole pods, those can be harder to track down.
If you have a large-scale supermarket, you may find them there. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are a great place to start.
Your best bet is to check your local Asian or Indian grocery store.
When selecting pods, look for large, dry, and firm ones. They should have a noticeable aroma and be about an inch long.
How to Store
The best place to store black cardamom is a properly-placed spice rack.
The space should be dark, cool, and dry. A cupboard or pantry away from the stove is a great choice.
You can store powdered black cardamom in its original container. Place whole pods in an air-tight (preferably glass) container before storing them.
The pods will last for up to a year. Ground black cardamom will stay fresh for 2 to 3 months.
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