Quick Facts

Flavor: A very strong flavor with sweet, citrus-y notes. It has also been described as tasting a bit like pine with undertones of eucalyptus.

Use with: Most often in Indian, Persian, and Arabic cuisine. An essential ingredient in garam masala. The flavors go well with both savory and sweet dishes. It is best used to season coffee, citrus fruits and mangoes, rice dishes, milk puddings, and custards.

History

Cardamom is native to Southern India and Sri Lanka. It can also be found growing in Vietnam, Guatemala, and Tanzania.

Cardamom is a favorite spice among many cultures and is considered the Queen of Spices in India (where black pepper in the King). It is one of the most expensive spices in the world, due to limitations on where it can be grown and the labor-intensive harvesting process.

Many believe that cardamom was found growing in the Gardens of Babylon in 720 BC.

Open cardamom pod with seeds

Production

Cardamom is typically picked by hand before it is fully ripe. If it is not picked at the correct time, the pods will split open and the seeds will fall out and be lost. After harvesting, the pods are laid out in wooden sheds and dried with a furnace so as to avoid being bleached by the sun.

When split open, each cardamom pod contains small, brown, oily seeds. Typically, cardamom is either used in the form of a pod (either whole or “bruised”) or ground seeds. It is very unusual for whole cardamom seeds to be called for in a recipe.

When choosing cardamom, take care to choose pods with a bright, lime green color. The whiter the husk, the more time the cardamom has spent in the sun as opposed to being dried properly in the shed. When grinding your own cardamom, use a spice grinder for the best results. If you are buying pre-ground cardamom, ensure that the spice is dark brown. Lightly colored cardamom suggests that the husks were also ground into the blend, reducing the quality of the spice and changing its flavor.

Flavor and Usage

If your recipe calls for a “bruised” cardamom pod, use the flat edge of a knife to smash the pod. This will release oils from the seeds and will add a more intense flavor to the dish.

Cardamom has a strong flavor and should be used sparingly so as not to overpower the dish. In addition to its use in Indian and Persian cuisine, it is also common in Danish pastries. It pairs well with other sweet spices such as allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg.