Cardamom is an aromatic spice widely used in Middle-Eastern, Asian, and Indian cuisines. The spice is derived from the cardamom pods. Used either whole or ground, its aroma imparts an herby zing to savory dishes like curry or even sweet desserts and drinks! Along with cinnamon, ginger, turmeric, coriander seeds, and other spices, cardamom pods are a definite must-have on your spice rack.
What Are Cardamom Pods?
Cardamom pods are whole spice pods that are native to Southern India, Sri Lanka, and Guatemala. These contain black cardamom seeds that make the cardamom spice, which is used to season sweet and spicy dishes.
In terms of appearance, the cardamom pod generally has a triangular cross-section with a spindle shape. It has a thin, paper-like shell. These pods can either be used whole, or the seeds can be extracted and used whole or as a powder.
Cardamom Seeds vs Pods
A cardamom pod pertains to the whole unit of the spindle-shaped shell and the seeds contained inside. Whereas cardamom seeds are the small, black spices found inside. They can be used either as whole or ground for a myriad of dishes. For the most part though, whole cardamom pods and its seeds have a similar flavor profile.
What Does Cardamom Taste Like?
Cardamom pods have an herbal and citrusy taste. It is also aromatic, with a fresh and zesty smell. Although, these qualities may also depend on the kind of cardamom pod at your disposal.
There are three varieties that you can try; namely green, black, and white. Besides the differences in color, each of these bring something different to the table in terms of flavor and aroma.
Kinds of Cardamom Pods
Green Cardamom Pods
This is the most common variety that you’d find in spice sections of grocery stores. Green cardamom pods (Elettaria cardamomum) brings an herbal quality, as well as a tart and slightly sweet flavor to a variety of dishes. It’s quite versatile, so you can use it to make everything from sweet desserts, savory dishes, to even drinks like chai tea.
Black Cardamom Pods
In terms of taste and aroma, black cardamom pods (Amomum subulatum) are stronger and smokier, with a hint of citrus and menthol-like flavor. This spice’s powerful taste and smell makes it ideal for rich-tasting savory dishes, like curries and other hearty meat recipes from around the world. Sometimes, it’s accompanied by an acidic ingredient to help mellow down its intensity. Use these pods to pack your dish with flavors more intense than that of green cardamom pods.
White Cardamom Pods
White cardamom pods are simply green cardamom pods that have been bleached to have a milder flavor. Because the bleach reduces the spice’s flavor substantially, white cardamom pods are less intense and subtler than the previous types. For that very reason, these are best for sweet goods, as savory dishes might drown out the spice’s flavor.
Health Benefits of Cardamom
Cardamom, as a whole, is a good source of antioxidants which can help prevent illnesses. Like turmeric, celery seeds, and other spices, it also carries other minerals that can boost one’s health. Cardamom pods are also good for relieving and preventing digestive issues such as nausea, stomach pains, and acidity.
How to Cook With Cardamom
Cardamom pods are used for making drinks like coffee or herbal tea, and so much more. Depending on the beverage or dish you’ll be cooking, the spice can either be used as whole or ground.
To use whole cardamom pods, toast them in a skillet for a few minutes first. Then, remove from heat and let cool for a minute. When they’ve cooled down, remove the seeds inside the pods and use for the recipe.
Even if the recipe requires cardamom powder, it’s better to manually grind the cardamom seeds yourself. You can do this with a mortar and pestle or a handy spice grinder. This is recommended because store-bought cardamom powder tends to lose a lot of the spice’s natural oils. This in turn causes a loss in most of its flavor and aroma.
Remember to only grind the specific amount that you need for the recipe so that the remaining pods can be stored properly and retain their freshness.
- If using the whole pod, make sure to discard the used pods after cooking since biting into them is quite unpleasant.
Best Cardamom Recipes
Cardamom is not just used in flavorful Asian dishes and Middle Eastern cuisine. Its warm quality makes it ideal as a fall spice to add to delicious baked goods and drinks. Here are some of the best recipes with cardamom:
- Vanilla Chai Tea – Steep cardamom seeds with black tea and other spices to concoct this warm and fragrant beverage.
- Indian Lamb Biryani – Cooking it with rice, ground cardamom, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, and salt packs the grain with delicious aroma and flavor. Paired with marinated lamb, this is one of the best savory cardamom recipes to have.
- Diabetic-Friendly Apple Oatmeal – Cardamom enhances the aromatic quality of apple spice mix for this nourishing oatmeal dish.
Where to Buy Cardamom Pods
Cardamom pods can be bought in spice sections of supermarkets. However, these may not always be available, especially the black variety. For cases like this, you may opt for powdered or ground cardamom instead.
Just in case, try visiting Indian food markets or international specialty stores which are fully stocked with a variety of spices. If all else fails, try looking at online stores.
It’s also important to note that cardamom pods are pricey. In fact, cardamom is among the most expensive spices in the world. Due to the tedious process of preparing and producing this spice, it’s usually sold for about 90 USD per kilogram.
How to Store Cardamom
Store whole cardamom pods and its seeds in an airtight container. The seal keeps air and moisture at bay, preventing the stripping away of the spice’s flavor. Then, place the container in a cool, dark place to keep the cardamom fresh and aromatic.
Cardamom pods can last for more than a year when stored properly. Meanwhile, cardamom seeds can easily lose their freshness, especially once they’ve been exposed to air. The shelf life for the seeds is only a few months, but they can stay good for up to a year when stored the right way.
READ ALSO: How to Store Cilantro So It Lasts Longer
Best Cardamom Substitute
Did you know that you can combine cheaper and more common spices to make a substitute for cardamom? This is the best option, since mimicking the distinct taste and aroma of the said spice is difficult to achieve when using only a single ingredient.
From cinnamon and allspice to cinnamon and cloves, there are a bunch of substitutes for cardamom that could be in your pantry.
Cinnamon is the best cardamom substitute, even on its own. But you can tweak it to match the types of dishes you want to make by blending it with other spices.
For a milder taste, mix equal parts cinnamon and nutmeg. You can then use this spice mixture for making sweet desserts and pastries.
To make savory meat dishes, you’ll need a stronger combination of spices. Mix equal parts cinnamon with either ground ginger, allspice, or ground cloves for that intense cardamom taste.
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