What Is Cardamom and How Should I Use It?

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Move over, turmeric—there's a new super spice in town! Here's everything you need to know about spicy-sweet cardamom.

Whether used in an Indian curry or a Scandinavian pastry, cardamom is an intense, slightly sweet spice that instantly brings warmth and sweetness to any recipe. A favorite in the cuisines of Middle East, North Africa and Scandinavia, this spice is one of the most expensive in the world, but its strong flavor can’t be beat.

You need to make these cardamom-infused recipes now.

What kind of cardamom should I use?

Cardamom comes in a few varieties, but the black and green pods are the most popular.

  • Green cardamom’s herbal, citrusy, slightly sweet flavor is equally used in sweet and savory dishes. Try it here.
  • Black cardamom’s stronger, menthol-like flavor is used mostly in savory dishes. Try it here.
  • White cardamom is actually green pods that have been bleached and tends to have a milder flavor. Try it here.

Wondering if your cardamom is expired? Read our tips on expiration dates.

How do I cook with cardamom?

You can purchase cardamom as pods, seeds or powder. For the boldest flavor, always start with whole pods since ground cardamom is more mild. If your recipe calls for whole pods, lightly toast them in a pan over medium heat until they’re aromatic, and remember to take them out before serving.

Other recipes will call for the seeds—break open the pods and grind them up yourself for the best flavor. You can do so with an electric spice grinder or the old-fashioned way, with a mortar and pestle. Be careful when adding freshly ground cardamom to a dish: A little goes a long way. Cardamom can quickly overpower other ingredients, so gradually add it in.

Cardamom pairs well with poultry, red meat, lentils, oranges, rice and other warm spices, like nutmeg and cinnamon. It’s ideal in curries, teas, baked goods (like this gorgeous bread) and sausages.

Does cardamom have any health benefits?

Yes! Cardamom is a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C, iron and potassium. Cardamom is in the same family as ginger and turmeric, which are all great at balancing digestion, combating nausea and fighting motion sickness. Some people even chew on the pods like gum because of their minty flavor.

See the amazing health benefits of other common spices.

What can I substitute for cardamom?

Cardamom is hard to replace, but if you’re in a pinch, a blend of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves can work.

Keep in mind that black cardamom isn’t a substitute for green cardamom, but green can substitute for black. The strong, smoky black cardamom would overpower any recipe that called for green.

Next up: Read up on the common Indian spices you need to know about.

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Alexa Hackfort
Alexa is a writer who believes there’s always room for ice cream. Based in Milwaukee, she enjoys exploring the city, tackling new recipes and planning her next trip.