Cardamom is a spice derived from the seeds of plants in the ginger family. It has a sweet, aromatic flavor. It’s commonly used in cooking and beverages to add depth and complexity to various dishes.
It’s not called “The Queen of Spices” for nothing. Its fragrant, floral, and minty profile is truly indescribable. But one thing’s for sure, it adds excitement to food.
Learn all about about its forms and varieties, and how to use it in cooking and baking.
Plus, get tips for how to use it in your favorite recipes.
What Is Cardamom?
Cardamom is a spice pod made from seeds belonging to the ginger family.
Cardamom pods are brown or green and spindle-shaped with a thin outer shell. When you cut them open, you’re greeted by several small black seeds.
The spice originated in Asia and is commonly used in Indian cuisine. Today, however, most cardamom comes from Guatemala.
Cardamom is sold in different forms: whole pods, the seeds, or ground powder.
Types of Cardamom
Green cardamom, or true cardamom, is the most common of all varieties. Its flavor is what you imagine cardamom to taste like. It’s warm, herbal, floral, and citrusy, with hints of spicy and minty flavors.
It’s mainly used in sweet dishes, but you can use it to flavor savory food, too. Green cardamom pods are green because they are harvested early. They’re about the size of a peanut.
The husk is edible, but it’s the seeds you want. When ground into a fine powder, you get ground cardamom.
Black cardamom comes from larger, dark brown pods. These pods are smoke-dried post-harvest. They have an earthy, smoky aroma and flavor.
That said, black cardamom is ideal in savory dishes. When recipes call for black cardamom, use the entire pod, not just the seeds.
White cardamom is simply bleached green cardamom. This process is carried out to dial down the robust flavor of green cardamom.
White cardamom has a more subtle flavor and is popularly used in Scandinavian countries and northern Europe.
Whole vs Ground
Ground cardamom is made of finely-ground cardamom seeds. It has a subtler flavor compared to whole pods. The cardamom loses some of its flavor during the grinding process.
As mentioned, recipes that call for black cardamom often refer to the whole pod, husk, seeds, and all. They’re discarded after cooking, so don’t worry about biting into a bitter pod.
What Does Cardamom Taste Like?
Each variety has its own nuanced flavor. But in general, cardamom has a strong, pungent yet sweet aroma and flavor. It has hints of floral, citrus, and mint flavor.
- Green cardamom has a citrus, herbal, and slightly sweet taste, making it ideal for sweet dishes.
- Black cardamom has an earthy and slightly smoky taste, so it’s excellent in savory dishes.
- White cardamom is like a washed-out version of green cardamom.
You can also use cardamom to add depth of flavor to baked goods, like cheesecake, pudding, and cookies. Cardamom can also add flavor to savory dishes as well, such as soups and smoked meats.
It’s popular in Scandinavian countries as well. It’s mostly used in baked goods like Julekaka and the Finnish Pulla.
In Sweden, cardamom is used in both sweet and savory dishes, from baked goods to meatloaf.
How to Cook with Cardamom
For a more pronounced flavor, it’s better to use cardamom whole pods.
You can also use ground cardamom, but for a stronger flavor, grind the seeds yourself. Here’s how:
1. Toast the pods in a skillet to bring out more of their flavor. This step also makes the pods easier to open.
2. Let the toasted pods cool for 1 minute. Take out the seeds and grind them with a mortar and pestle. Save the pods as you can use them to flavor teas and beverages.
Where to Buy
You can get green cardamom, both ground and whole pods, in most grocery stores. Check the spice section.
Black cardamom is not as common. Look for it at international specialty stores. You’ll also find green cardamom there, at a lower price.
You can also get cardamom online.
How to Store
Store both ground and whole cardamom pods in an air-tight container. Keep them in a cool, dark place away from sunlight, like a cupboard or drawer.
Whole cardamom pods will keep well for up to 1 year. Ground cardamom should be used up within 3 months.
Cardamom has such a unique flavor, it’s hard to find one single substitute for it. But in a pinch, use a blend of warm spices with a similar flavor profile. These include cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, and allspice.
Also, since cardamom pods belong to the ginger family, ginger also makes for a good alternative.
Good substitutes for black cardamom include smoked paprika and smoked sea salt. Neither has cardamom’s pungent flavor, but the smokiness will be there.
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