A Guide to Cardamom
Delve in to the sweet and spicy complexities of the Cardamom.
A member of the ginger family, cardamom is a global game changer that can be found in a variety of sweet and savoury dishes. Cooks from all over the world have been jazzing up coffee, rice dishes, and pastries with this warm, sweet spice for centuries.
Basically, if it’s not on your spice rack, it should be. Let’s find out why.
What is cardamom?
Cardamom is a spice made from the seed pods of the cardamom plant, a close relative of ginger and turmeric. The plant’s triangle-shaped pods are made up of spindle-shaped clusters of seeds with a thin outer shell that can be used whole or ground.
Where does cardamom come from?
Cardamom is made from the fruits, or seeds, of the Elettaria cardamomum. Native to the moist forests of southern India, The Queen of Spice is most commonly cultivated in India, Sri Lanka, and Guatemala.
What are the different types of cardamom?
Beyond ground and whole cardamom, there are two main varieties (black and green) with two sub-varieties (yellow and white). Green (also known as true cardamom) is the most recognised and common variety, which you should find stocked in your local supermarket.
What does cardamom taste like?
Green cardamom has a pungent piney flavour and aroma, with hints of lemon and mint, while black cardamom has an added smoky note. It’s notable for its complex, earthy, bittersweet aroma, and is the main component of any traditional chai spice blend. White cardamom has less of a punchy flavour, it’s green cardamom bleached to remove any colour. The bleaching process dulls the flavours slightly and it’s used in light batters and bakes to prevent colouring.
What cuisine can cardamom be used in?
While closely associated with Southeast Asian dishes, cardamom is a universally loved spice that appears in a variety of signature rice dishes from different countries, communities and cultures, including Nordic, Middle Eastern and Arabic cuisine.
In fact Sweden is one of the countries that consume the most cardamom, and the spice plays a central role in an iconic sweet treat: kardemummabulle – a sweet bun, perfumed with cardamom’s complex aroma and imbued with it’s piney, fruity, menthol-like flavour.
Green cardamom is primarily used in Nordic and Middle Eastern cuisine, while recipes originating from India and Asia use both black and green, and often specify which variety should be used.
Complimentary herbs and spices
If you’re thinking of creating your own spice blends, or are simply wondering what other spices work well with cardamom, we’ve got you.
Cardamom pairs perfectly with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, all of which are included in many Indian spice mixtures, including garam masala. It also tastes great when paired with rosemary.
Substitutions for cardamom
If your recipe calls for cardamom but you don’t have any available, or don’t think you’ll use it enough to warrant buying a whole jar for one dish, there are a couple of clever alternatives.
If you’re looking to replicate the warm aroma and earthy flavours of cardamom, the best alternatives are spices such as allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg. A mix of cinnamon and ginger specially is a great cardamom substitute because it mimics the spice’s complexity.
How to use cardamom
If you’re looking for superior flavour (and who isn’t) it’s always better to buy cardamom pods and grind the seeds yourself. Once ground, cardamom begins to lose its essential oils, so the pre-ground variety isn’t as potent.
Alternatively, you can also crush the pods lightly, then add them to stews or soups. The outer pods will dissolve, but the little black seeds within will pleasantly spice the mix.
You can also simply add the pods to boiling rice for an easy added pop. The flavours seep into the water and add a delightful flowery note. But don’t forget to remove the pods before serving, as biting directly into a pod can give you a flavour shock.
For sensational flavour we recommend toasting your green cardamom pods in a dry skillet for a few minutes. Set them aside to cool, then move on to removing the seeds from the pods. Grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle, or even a coffee grinder.
Tip: Don’t throw away your pods! Instead save them for adding to coffee or tea for flavour.
How to store cardamon
Cardamom’s kryptonite is sunlight, air and moisture, regardless of whether they are in ground or raw form. Therefore, it’s best to store cardamom in an airtight container in a cool, dry and ideally shaded place.
How long does cardamom last?
When stored correctly, pre-ground cardamom can last for eight to nine months, while raw cardamoms last even longer – up to 2 to 3 years, even if they’re stored at room temperature. However, as soon as your cardamom seeds are ground they will quickly lose their flavour, so it’s best to use them as soon as possible.
Can you freeze cardamon?
You can freeze cardamom in an airtight container to extend the shelf life. However, frozen cardamom won’t have the same potent, punchy flavour as the fresh variety.