What Is Cardamom and How Should I Use It?

elaichi or Cardamom powder in bowl or heap over moody background with pods.StockImageFactory.com/Shutterstock

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

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

You need to make almond-orange cardamom cookies.

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 flavour is equally used in sweet and savory dishes.
  • Black cardamom's stronger, menthol-like flavour is used mostly in savory dishes.
  • White cardamom is actually green pods that have been bleached and tends to have a milder flavour.

How do I cook with cardamom?

You can purchase cardamom as pods, seeds or powder. For the boldest flavour, 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 flavour. 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, desserts (like our plum cardamom compote) 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 flavour. (Cardamom is just one of many spices loaded with health benefits. Check out the 10 impressive health benefits of cinnamon.)

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, learn how to make our delicious creamy red lentil soup featuring two powerhouse spices: cardamom and cinnamon.

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