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What is Cardamom?

When it comes to cooking curries and aromatic dishes, cardamom is one of the staple spices that you will find turns up in almost every recipe. But it's not just used to spice savory dishes, but it turns up in cakes and other sweet dishes, too. From Indian, Middle Eastern and Arabic cuisines to all the way around the globe, cardamom is a popular spice that comes in two different types. 

You can use cardamom in pods, seeds and even ground down to powder. Cardamom is a versatile spice, and some people even use it in hot drinks like masala chai and coffee. There are very few flavors out there that rival cardamom, and it has the nickname "The Queen of Spices" for a very good reason! Whether you are livening up baked goods or offering something spicy to your tea, cardamom is considered to be a medicinal spice that may help with digestion, making it so much more than just a delicious spice to smell from a distance!

There are a variety of cardamom available, but there are two main genera that contain cardamom, and these are Amomum and Ellataria. There are studies to back up the health benefits of cardamom, and there is so much more to this aromatic spice than you think. Let's dive right in and learn all about it.

What Is Cardamom? 

What is cardamom?

Cardamom is a pod spice that comes from the ginger family. They are spindle-shaped, with a triangular cross-section and each pod has a number of seeds. The entire pod can be added to dishes, or you can use it ground in teas and cakes. The seeds inside the cardamom pod are tiny and black, but you can get pods of different colors and sizes depending on the species that you buy. Cardamom has a couple of varieties, both black cardamom and green cardamom are the main ones, and you can even find white cardamom. This is pretty much the same as green cardamom, though it's been bleached. You can find green cardamom pods used in Middle Eastern cuisine and in Nordic recipes, but the Indian and Asian recipes generally tend to have both used throughout their recipes. A little more information on both pod types includes the following:

  • Green Cardamom (Elettaria). This is what's known as "true" cardamom as it's the most common variety found in your local store. It's the main choice used for the sweeter dishes, but you can use them through for savory dishes, too. You'll find green cardamom growing in Malaysia, India and Costa Rica. Green cardamom is bleached to white sometimes, and you can buy it this way, too.
  • Black Cardamom (Amomum). Easily distinguishable from its sister, black
    cardamom has larger pods that are mostly dark brown. The flavor is slightly different, smokier than the green pods and that's one of the biggest reasons it's great for savory dishes. In India, black cardamom is used in sweet dishes! You'll find black cardamom growing in the eastern Himalayas.

In Indian recipes, cardamom is used as a whole pod. Sometimes, it's toasted in oil just to flavor the oil before meat is cooked, but in rice preparation you can find whole pods that are left in the rice to give it that aromatic taste. In Middle Eastern recipes, cardamom is usually used in its ground form, spicing certain desserts.

Should You Use Whole Pods Or Ground Cardamom?

When you see a recipe calling for black cardamom, it's usually the whole pod that is intended for use with the pod and seeds intact - no crushing required. After cooking, the pods are disposed of before the dish is served. No one likes to chow down on an entire cardamom pod as they are enjoying a meal.

When it comes to using green cardamom, you can initially begin with a whole pod. Ground cardamom pods are less flavorsome as the whole pod. The cardamom seeds hold all of the essential oils that give this spice flavor and if it's crushed down, the flavor is lost pretty quickly. Grinding it down loses the flavor fast, too.

What Is The Flavor Of Cardamom? 

what is the flavor of cardamom?
If you've ever bitten into cardamom, you will notice the taste isn't too nice - it will taste pretty bitter! The green pods, as we mentioned, are the "true" cardamom. It's very fragrant, with citrus-y notes and a cross between eucalyptus and mint aromas! Black cardamom is a little different. It's harsher than green cardamom and it tastes smoky, with a cool menthol aftertaste.

What Is Cardamom Used For?

Cardamom is added to so many different recipes, but it is so much more than a cooking spice. It's worth noting that if you keep cardamom pods whole, it will be even better than you think! Toasting the pods on their own in oil or in a dry skillet can flavor oil. Once toasted, the pods are also easier to open so that the seeds can be used and ground down before discarding the shell. The seeds can be ground by hand in a mortar and a pestle if you have it, but if you have a grinder, you can use that, too. Keep hold of the empty pods to be able to flavor coffees and teas, but if you are using the green pods, you only need to add three to four seeds to your coffee beans and grind them together. When you do this, you can gain a ton of flavor and benefits of the cardamom seeds. They work very well in hot drinks but there are some traditions that ask you to grind the entire pod, such as Turkish tea traditions and Swedish Cardamom Buns. You can just use the seeds if you prefer not to use the shell of the pod, but the flavor is all in the combination of pod and seeds.

In Sweden, many popular recipes have cardamom added, and they can be found in recipes for meatloaf, baked goods and even hamburgers. It's on pretty much every menu and because it matches very well with cinnamon and nutmeg and even cloves, you get a spice that you can cast back to your favorite dishes! Indian spice mixtures often feature cardamom, too, such as garam masala! You will find cardamom features in mulled wines, hot ciders and eggnog, too, and that unexpected hint of cardamom can make a huge difference to the flavor of the dish. Some of the most popular cardamom dishes include roast legs of lamb and Turkish coffee, but you'll also find it in some cake recipes, including basic Scandinavian cardamom dough!

Can I Substitute Cardamom For Anything?

It can be difficult to find a good substitute for cardamom as it has such a unique flavor. You can, however, blend warm spices that will help to replace the fragrant scent of cardamom. The secret? Cinnamon! You need to grab some cinnamon and nutmeg and ground equal parts together. When you don't have nutmeg, ground ginger or cloves will be perfect along with the cinnamon to create that sweet and aromatic taste closest to cardamom.

Where Can I Buy Cardamom? 

Where to buy cardamom

Any supermarket should have pods of cardamom or cardamom seeds and ground powder. If you want to find black cardamom, you will be better off looking at an international specialty grocer. They will have the right prices and quantities that you need! A quick Google search will tell you all you need to know about your local international Asian or Indian food store.

How Do I Store Cardamom?

Storage for cardamom is easy: it can sit in the spice rack with all the other spices! Make sure that the container that you use for whole pods is sealed and in a cool, dry place. Ground cardamom can also be stored the same way, but because it's ground down, you will find that it loses its potency and needs to be used quickly to be flavorful. Cardamom is always better left as a pod, so when you do buy it try to stick to that. You can always grind it down freshly yourself when your recipe requires ground cardamom powder.

Benefits Of Cardamom 

As with most spices, cardamom has a ton of health benefits that have been researched and explored. Understanding the benefits of this aromatic spice will help you to make the best possible decisions about your health, too. According to Medical News Today, some of the benefits of cardamom include the following:

  • Everyone wants to improve their digestion, and as cardamom is packed with essential oil-filled seeds, you'll find that this oil soothes the stomach. This is the oil that makes cardamom a great option for helping with your digestive health.
  • There are reports that show that those in South Asian countries are using cardamom to relieve the pain from kidney stones. When you use banana leaf with cardamom, you'll find that it acts as a diuretic that will help various issues relating to your bladder and kidneys. 
  • Its possible cardamom can help with acidity, stomach cramps and even flatulence! The oils that are extracted from the plant are volatile, and this helps to quell that acid reflux feeling.
  • Did you know that some people chew on cardamom pods to freshen their breath? Your dental issues may be helped with the use of cardamom, and the side effects and secondary effects are antibiotic in nature. Spices work to inhibit infectious microbes rather than the probiotic bacteria. 
  • Cardamom has been long-studied, and it works to support those with asthma as well as other respiratory problems. Cardamom has also been extensively proven to be great for joint and muscular pain, which is super helpful if you are dealing with aches.
  • The benefits of cardamom show that it is a natural detoxifying agent, and it works well in the body to help you to boost your immune system.
  • As cardamom is part of the ginger family, you may find that it works well as a treatment for nausea, acting as a natural stimulant and tonic! It's excellent for a calming effect on the throat, and it can quell the sickly feeling in the bottom of the stomach.
  • Cardamom is an excellent source of Vitamin A and C, and it's great as a source of iron and potassium, too. 

How To Make Cardamom Tea 

How to make cardamom tea?

If you've never heard of it, you're missing out. Cardamom tea works very well and has a very strong flavor. You don't need much to make cardamom tea - you only need the black or green cardamom pods. A few pods are enough for a strong cup of cardamom tea, and if you want to release most of the flavor, you just need to crush them gently in a bowl, reduce the heat a little and boil them down for 15 or so minutes. Strain the pods, and you'll then add sweeteners if you need it.

If you want something a little more flavorful, you can blend your cardamom with other spices like cinnamon or ginger. It's used in comforting herbal tea blends and in chai tea because it's delicious. Brewing these spices and cardamom pods in boiling water helps those aromas to release easily. Gently add bubbling - not boiling - milk to complete the recipe. Strain it all and mix for a treat before bed. You can also make cardamom black tea, which is the simplest type of tea that you can make. Brewing Assam black tea leaves with gently crushed pods will help you to make a great drink.

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