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Behind the Seasoning: Cardamom - What is it? Uses & Recipes

Spoons with cardamom pods, cardamom seeds, and ground cardamom
Cardamom is a unique spice that imparts a one-of-a-kind flavor. Native to Asia, the spice can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.

Its distinctive versatility makes it worth a try but it's not as common in the United States, so we're covering everything you need to know about the flavor and uses of cardamom.

What is Cardamom?

Cardamom is the seed pod from a plant that’s native to Asia. You might also see it spelled as cardamon or cardamum; they are all the same. People use both the cardamom pod and the seeds themselves in cooking. While the plant is related to ginger, it has a distinctive flavor. But, like ginger, it can be used in sweet and savory dishes.

What are cardamom pods?

Cardamom pods are the seed pods of the plant. There are two different kinds, black cardamom and green cardamom. They have different flavors and are used in different ways and types of recipes, but green cardamom is the most common.

What is cardamom powder?

Cardamom powder, or ground cardamom, comes from the seeds inside the pod. The cardamom seeds are removed from the pod, then ground into a fine powder. This powder is easier to incorporate into spice mixes, baked goods, and more.

What is cardamom spice?

Cardamom spice is just another way to say cardamom. When you see it in recipes, it likely refers to the ground seeds.

How many seeds in a cardamom pod?

It can vary slightly, but most cardamom pods generally contain about 10-20 tiny seeds. Depending on the source, you may find that the answer is 8-16 but ours tend to contain 15-20.

Why is cardamom so expensive?

Sometimes called the Queen of Spices, cardamom is the third most expensive spice in the world (by weight). The cost is a combination of factors, including the fact that the growing region is limited. It’s also a labor-intensive crop that must be harvested by hand (like the two most expensive spices, vanilla and saffron). All those factors combine to make it a costly spice. However, it does have a strong, distinctive flavor, so a little goes a long way.

What Does Cardamom Taste Like?

Cardamom has a unique and distinctive flavor. It’s challenging to describe but has peppery, piney, eucalyptus, and menthol-like notes, but the taste of cardamom is also floral with hints of citrus. This blend of sweet, peppery, pungent, and aromatic flavors actually makes it an incredibly versatile spice.

What flavor is cardamom?

When we talk about the flavor of cardamom, we’ve primarily discussed the flavor of green cardamom pods or the seeds (whole and ground). However, there is a second kind of cardamom that is very different. Black cardamom has an earthy, woody, almost smoky flavor.

What does cardamom smell like? 

As with most spices, when it comes to ground cardamom, you can tell a lot about the flavor by the aroma. Cardamom powder should have a strong aroma that is slightly peppery and citrusy with minty notes of eucalyptus. Whole cardamom pods and the seeds inside should still have a fragrance, but it will be milder, as it’s the process of grinding or breaking down the spice that releases most of the essential oils.

Garam Masala jar with spiced nuts

What Other Spices, Seasonings, and Flavors pair well with Cardamom?

Cardamom can be blended with other spices to bring out its sweet, aromatic characteristics. Adding a pinch to baking spice will create new depth and dimension in your baked goods. You can also mix it with individual baking spices, like cinnamon, cloves (whole or ground), and ginger. It’s delicious in zucchini bread or carrot cake, which showcases sweet and savory ingredients.

The flavor of cardamom can be strong, so we suggest starting with just a pinch. In stews and meat dishes, you can pair cardamom with cumin, (seeds or ground), to bring out the earthy notes. Coriander will amplify the citrusy notes of cardamom. Cardamom can be found in Garam Masala and other curry blends as well.

What is Cardamom Used For?

Cardamom is used in a wide range of cuisines and recipes. The distinctive cardamom taste has both sweet and savory notes, meaning that it’s good for salads, breads, main dishes, desserts, and drinks.

What is cardamom good for?

Cardamom pods are great for infusing flavor into liquids. While chai might be the most well-known example, other drinks are also great with a touch of cardamom. Try it in alcoholic infusions, like DIY Prohibition “Gin”, and non-alcoholic options, like our Tingly Pineapple Mocktail. Cardamom seeds are arguably more versatile and ground cardamom can be added to all sorts of baked goods as well as soups and savory dishes.

How to grind cardamom? 

If you’re wondering how to use cardamom, it will depend on what type of cardamom you’re starting with. If you have whole pods and need ground cardamom, you’ll first have to remove the seeds. Gently crushing (or bruising) the pods will break them open enough for you to remove the seeds.

Cardamom seeds, also called decorticated cardamom, can be ground with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Cardamom seeds are harder than some other seeds, so unlike some other seeds, you might find it difficult to break them by putting them in a bag and then using a pan or rolling pin. However, some recipes call for whole seeds or even whole pods, typically when they are being used to infuse flavor, so check your recipe.

How to use cardamom in coffee?

One of our favorite uses for cardamom pods is in coffee. You can simply add a few cardamom pods to your coffee grounds before brewing. A traditional drink from Türkiye is the inspiration for this spice-infused coffee. For more history and a traditional recipe, here’s how to make Turkish Coffee.

How to make cardamom tea?

Perhaps the most well-known use of cardamom is in chai, or tea. Chai Spices typically include cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, and cloves. You can also use cardamom pods by themselves for a caffeine-free herbal tea. Steep 1-2 cardamom pods per cup of boiling water for 5-10 minutes – the flavor will get stronger the longer you let the cardamom pods sit. Add sweetener if you desire. You can also chill and enjoy this drink over ice.

Pinapple Mocktail with pineapple skewer and spices

What can be substituted for cardamom? 

First of all, you can use green cardamom pods, seeds, and powder interchangeably. According to America’s Test Kitchen, “Twelve cardamom pods will yield about 1 teaspoon of whole or coarsely ground seeds or ¾ teaspoon of finely ground seeds.” Cardamom has a unique flavor with notes of pepper, citrus, and mint, so you will miss a little something if you substitute another spice. However, this spice is less common in many American kitchens, so you may not have it on hand.

The best place to start when you’re trying to find a good substitute is to look at the spices and ingredients in your recipe. Baking Spice is a good substitute in many recipes since it has warm, nutty, and sweet flavors. If you’re making a stew or meat dish, you might opt to substitute coriander for cardamom so that you get the bright, citrusy notes.

Now because black cardamom has an entirely different flavor, you won’t want to substitute green for black (and vice versa). Good substitutes for black cardamom include nutmeg, allspice, and cumin. This article has some other substitutions you can choose from.

Are there Health Benefits of cardamom?

Cardamom is a fragrant, aromatic spice. Drinking cardamom tea or chewing cardamom seeds can freshen your breath. In Ayurvedic practice and in western medicine, cardamom is reported to have digestive and other benefits.

Where & How to Buy Cardamom?

We sell cardamom in three different ways: Green Cardamom Pods, Inner Cardamom Seeds, and Ground Inner Cardamom Seeds. Note that, like most spices, cardamom will start to lose its flavor when it is ground. For the longest shelf life, we suggest buying cardamom pods or seeds and grinding them as needed. Having trouble deciding whether pods, seeds, or ground is best for you? Head to your local Savory Spice to chat with Spice Merchants and learn how they use cardamom.

Bowl of pho overhead shot with limes, herbs, chiles

Recipes Using Cardamom?

Cardamom uses include a wide range of dishes, both sweet and savory. Here are some of our favorites.

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