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What Is Cardamom?

If you’ve never tasted the earthy and remarkable Queen of Spice and wondered what is cardamom, you are missing out on one of the most versatile seasonings available to home cooks.

It had always been something I read about in cookbooks and online, but I never had it on hand. 

I stumbled on a video from Christopher Kimball about his brown-butter banana bread with cardamom and he made it sound like the best thing since sliced…banana bread. 

Renee’ bought some ground cardamom for the house so we’d have it in case our test recipe calls for it.

As time went on, I ended up using a few overripe nanners in this outstanding muffin recipe I found because I had no butter in the house. 

I recalled that Milk Street video and thought I’d just pop ¾ t of ground cardamom into the batter, and then for grins, I toasted a few walnuts in cardamom with some butter and added those too. 

(I subbed out half the vegetable oil for melted coconut butter, added the cardamom, walnuts and chocolate chunks. With so many tweaks, I wasn’t sure how they’d end up.)

Well, wow is what I was thinking and WOW is what I said. 

These were so fragrant, moist and delicious, it was like the cardamom gave every flavor in these muffins a rocket-boost. 

And cardamom gets all the credit for that new flavor profile I had never thought I’d experience in my baked goods at home before. (Did I say wow??)

I’m hooked. 

Sweet and earthy, this delightful aromatic spice belongs in many cuisines, whether Indian, Middle Eastern, Arabic, Swedish, or even Scandinavian. 

In this post, I’ll share with you more details about what is cardamom and why it’s known as the queen of spice.

Table Of Contents

What Is Cardamom

Known as the queen of spices, cardamom is a spice made from seed pods of the cardamom plant. It’s one of those most-liked fall spices, alongside ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon. 

Many widely use it, especially in Indian cooking, Caribbean and middle eastern cuisine, due to its complex and unique flavor profile. 

Botanically known as Elettaria cardamomum, cardamom belongs to the family Zingiberaceae, which turmeric, ginger, and galangal also include.

Native to southern India, the cardamom plant typically reaches 5-meter tall and has a lifespan of up to 15 years. 

Its leaves are tapered at each end and dark green; the plant produces flowers and capsule-like pods, which contain 15 to 20 tiny aromatic seeds. 

These pods are harvested by hand when young and undergo a drying process to retain their green hue. 

They are used in either ground or whole form and included in sweet and savory dishes ranging from Swedish cookies, potato soup to avocado salad.

Type of cardamom

Cardamom comes in different varieties, but the most common types used by food enthusiasts across the globe are green, black, and white cardamom.

Green cardamom

Green cardamom is the most common cardamom variety, and we often see them in the grocery store. 

Originated in southern India, the fruity and menthol-like flavor of the spice is suitable in both savory and sweet dishes. 

Furthermore, the two popular types of green cardamom are Malabar cardamom and the Mysore cardamom variety, which contains higher cineol and limonene levels. 

So it’s more aromatic than Malabar.

Black cardamom

Black cardamom is a relative of green cardamom, but they aren’t from the same plant. 

The black cardamom pod is a variety with a similar flavor notes to green cardamom with a strong, smoky aroma. 

Grind this spice to a fine cardamom powder, or remove the black seeds and use it whole. 

To use this common spice, black cardamom works well with bitter greens like collards.

The distinct flavor of this spice can elevate many simple rice dishes, Turkish coffee, curries, pot roast, and brisket.

White cardamom

White cardamom is simply the bleached version of the green cardamom. 

The bleaching process reduces the menthol note of the spice, leaving only that sweet and pleasant flavor profile. 

Moreover, people living in European countries like Scandinavia seem to prefer white cardamom to flavor their baked goods.

Whole vs. ground

Whole cardamom pods are typically fried and added to meat and vegetable-based dishes. Others use them to add intense flavor to their pastries and bread. 

The whole version of Indian cardamom is also a key ingredient for sauces, puree, seafood, stew, and soups. 

If you want to add that distinctive cardamom flavor to your fruit salad, take the seeds from the pod, then toss them into your mix. 

Meanwhile, people often use ground cardamom in baked goods such as cookies and bread.

Due to its mildly sweet flavor, ground cardamom is added to beverages like Turkish coffee to cut through the bitterness of the hot drink.

What does cardamom taste like?

The taste of cardamom depends on the variety you’re using. 

Green cardamom pods feature a complex flavor profile that hints of citrus, mint, herb, and basil at the same time. 

Also considered a warm spice that in the U.S. we categorize as a fall flavor, found in many baked goods, hot drinks, and more.

On the other hand, black cardamom has a minty flavor like the green variety but with a hint of smokiness. 

The bleached version of green cardamom, white cardamom, has a sweet and robust flavor that adds a depth. 

We’ve used it in banana muffins, tempering the sweetness of the sugar and overripe bananas, but the unique flavor of cardamom layered in flavor that isn’t quite vanilla and isn’t quite nutmeg.

What does cardamom smell like

Apart from its nice fall flavor, many people love cardamom spice as it smells earthy-sweet, smoky, and nutty. 

This gorgeous fragrance is beautiful when infused with beverages like cardamom tea, treats, and savory dishes.

What is cardamom used for

Cardamom is a sought-after spice for its complex flavor and soft aroma of mild black pepper. Plus, it’s versatile enough to be included in both sweet and savory recipes. 

Here are some other ideas on how to use cardamom in your daily cooking.

  1. Use cardamom seeds and pods in curries and meat dishes like brisket. 
  2. Combine white cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks to flavor a curried shrimp soup
  3. Mix ground cardamom alongside sugar, milk, black tea, and ginger to create masala chai
  4. Don’t miss our version of mulled apple cider filled with fall flavors. 
  5. Take your basmati rice up a notch by infusing whole cardamom pods and cumin seeds.

🌿 Looking for cardamom substitutes?🌿

The bottom line

In conclusion, cardamom is one of the expensive spices here in the U.S. that’s found in powder form (also called ground form), common in many cuisines from India to Sweden. 

So, if you ever want to try cardamom, don’t worry because it is easy to find since it is common in many cuisines worldwide.

Try using a little at a time in your seasoning mixes, bakery blends, fall spices, and more. 

Whether you want to use it for savory or sweet dishes, the warmth of cardamom may surprise you!

Just remember that using too much can add a strong flavor, so start with a small cardamom amount at a time.

Stovetop Rice Pudding With Vanilla & Cardamom

Stovetop Rice Pudding With Vanilla & Cardamom

Yield: 5
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes

This stovetop rice pudding is a fragrant, creamy dessert is good served warm on colder evenings. Discover here how to create this rice pudding with a cardamom pop of flavor.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 c uncooked rice (any rice will do, but medium grain will make a creamier pudding)
  • 1/4 c granulated sugar
  • 2 T honey (raw, preferably)
  • ½ t of salt
  • 4-1/2 c whole milk
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 t ground cardamom
  • 1 t pure vanilla extract
  • Garnish: dried fruit, fresh fruit, slivered almonds, toasted walnuts or dash of mace

Instructions

  1. In a 4 quart saucepan, bring milk, rice, salt, and cardamom to a boil, stirring continuously to keep it from sticking to the pan.
  2. Reduce heat to low. Cover the pot and simmer for about 15 minutes, occasionally stirring until the rice is soft.
  3. In a separate bowl, separate then whisk the egg yolks, vanilla extract, and sugar together. 
  4. Drizzle this egg mixture into the hot rice, stirring constantly. Simmer until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  5. Add salt to taste and transfer the cooked pudding into your serving dishes afterward. 
  6. Serve warm or chill for three hours and serve cold. Garnish as desired before serving.

Did you make this recipe?

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