Have you tried cardamom? When it comes to adding warmth to sweet and savory foods, a little bit of this spice goes a long way. Cardamom is a special spice that adds a unique touch of warmth to garam masala and chai spice blends. But maybe you’ve never tried it on its own. If that’s true, then you definitely should. Just a pinch of this spice has the power to transform any dish. Let’s learn a little bit about where cardamom comes from and how we can use it in cooking.
Cardamom a member of the ginger family and it is one of the world’s oldest spices and its use dates back to thousands of years ago. Cardamom may look like one whole seed, but it is actually a seed pod; inside the pale, green, papery outer layer are several tiny black seeds. Cardamom pods grow between the sizes of 1/4-inch to 3/4-inch. Due to its brown color, longer cardamom pods are known as “black cardamom.” Cardamom is native to India, but it also grows in Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Indo-China, and Tanzania. Guatemala is the world’s largest producer of this aromatic spice while India, the leading producer of cardamom in the 20th century, ranks in at second. One thousand years ago, Vikings brought cardamom to modern day Scandinavia it remains a staple of Scandinavian baking. It is one of the world’s most expensive spices, second only to saffron.
There are several types of cardamom that are grown across the world, but the most widely used varieties are Malabar cardamom and Mysore cardamom, both of which are native to India. Generally, cardamom is described as an aromatic spice that is warming, like cinnamon and nutmeg, but there are subtle differences between the two main types. Mysore cardamom is said to taste more woodsy while malabar is more floral. Cardamom is highly prized by chefs and serious home cooks — try adding cardamom to your baked goods to add a little special touch to your food.
Cardamom Health Properties
Cardamom is rich in various vitamins and micronutrients. It is a good source of niacin, pyridoxine, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamin A, vitamin C, sodium, potassium, calcium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorous, and zinc. In traditional Ayurvedic medicine, it has been used as a digestive aid as well as a for protection against gastrointestinal diseases, urinary infections and disorders, as well as dental diseases. Not only has cardamom been used as to treat dental issues in Ayurvedic medicine, Ancient Egyptians would chew cardamom seeds as a way to clean their teeth.
In addition to that, several studies have revealed that this aromatic seed has antimicrobial properties, which explains why it has been used to fight disease in traditional medicine. Studies have also revealed that cardamom may benefit certain gastrointestinal health, cholesterol, and muscle spasms. Cardamom is also one of the most widely-used essential oils in aromatherapy, where it is used to treat symptoms of depression.
Cardamom is also a popular spice in Ayurvedic cooking. According to Ayurveda, cardamom tridoshic, which is good for balancing all three doshas. It is considered an excellent digestive and effective for reducing bloating and intestinal gas.
Cardamom pods can be bought whole, but most likely you will find it in powdered form or as one of the many spices in garam masala blends. If you have whole pods, keep them whole until you are ready to use them.
Whole black cardamom pods are traditionally used to add flavor to rice or pulse-based dishes, much like bay leaves. They can be added whole or crushed first, which better releases their aroma. Like bay leaves, the cardamom pod should be discarded, not consumed, prior to serving. Their flavor is strong, so you need only one or two pods. Try adding a crushed cardamom pod to recipes like this Iranian Jeweled Basmati Rice Pilaf, this Indian Rice and Lentils, this Jackfruit Pulao, or this Cauliflower Rice Biryani.
Cardamom can also be added to curries and there are several ways to do that. The first option is to shell the seeds, discard the pods, then bruise the seeds by crushing them slightly and sautéeing them in oil, along with other whole spices, before adding the rest of your ingredients. You can also shell the seeds and then grind them using a mortar and pestle, though this is more labor-intensive — in this instance, powdered cardamom would be the easiest option. Cardamom works best when paired with pulse-based or meaty dishes. This Veggie Meatballs Masala contains cardamom, which gives it a pleasant, warm note. For more meaty dishes, try adding it to this Tandoori Masala Mushroom Curry, this Baby Jackfruit Curry, or this Tofu Masala. For pulse-based curries that would pair beautifully with a pinch of cardamom, try this Spinach and Chickpea Curry, this Kidney Bean and Lentil Curry, or this Sweet and Spicy Spinach and Lentil Curry. It would also be a wonderful addition to this anti-inflammatory Fresh Turmeric Root Curry.
Cardamom is also popular in many Indian beverages and is one of the key spices in Turkish coffee. It adds warmth to this Vanilla Pear Cardamom Cocktail and would make a wonderful replacement for the lavender in this Slow-Cooker Lavender Rose Hot Chocolate. It’s also great in smoothies. Try adding a pinch of cardamom to your smoothies for a boost of flavor, like this Special Candy Bar Smoothie or this French Toast Smoothie.
Cardamom is an important ingredient in chai tea. To make your own tulsi chai concentrate, you will need 1 ginger root roughly the size of your hand, peeled and chopped into large chunks, 1 heaped tablespoon green cardamom pods, 3-4 whole star anise, 1/2 tablespoon whole cloves, 1/2 tablespoon whole allspice, Scant tablespoon whole black peppercorns, 4-5 cinnamon sticks, and 1/3 cup tulsi chai. Grind all spices except for the fresh ginger in a spice grinder or mini coffee grinder or by placing them in a sealable plastic bag and crushing them with a kitchen knife. Combine water and fresh ginger in a pot, then add ground spices and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat, then add tulsi, cover with lid and allow to steep for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, strain the concentrate into a clean glass jar. To make tea, combine concentrate with water or non-dairy milk on a 1:1 ratio.
Green cardamom’s strong flavor and warm notes make it right at home in baking. It is a traditional ingredient in semla, a type of pastry that is popular in Scandinavian countries. It consists of a sweet bun or puff pastry that is stuffed with whipped cream. This Raw Semla or these Buckwheat Buns With Coco Whip are both inspired by the traditional dessert and include cardamom. Add a pinch of cardamom to these Semla Inspired Fastelavnsboller to add authentic flavor.
Or, add it to your favorite treats! Cardamom adds a special touch of warmth to this Cardamom Carrot Cake, this Brown Butter Cardamom Cake, and this Black Tea Cardamom Cake. It also works in other baked goods, like these Hazelnut Butter and Cardamom Chocolate Chunk Cookies, these Maple Cardamom Vanilla Hazelnut Macaroons, or these Matcha Doughnuts With White Chocolate Cardamom Icing.
Finally, pair cardamom with rose to make desserts with Middle Eastern-inspired flavors, like these Cardamom Rose Cupcakes, this Cardamom Chocolate Cake With Rose Cashew Cream, these Cardamom Pistachio Rose Energy Bites, or try this Slow Cooker Pear Rose Cardamom Cake Oatmeal for breakfast.
Unfortunately, ground cardamom is one of the world’s most expensive spices, second only to saffron. It can be tricky to find in stores and cardamom pods are even trickier. Check your local grocery store for ground cardamom otherwise, try stores that carry specialty items, like Whole Foods, Fairway, or your local health food store. Your best bet at finding ground cardamom and cardamom pods will be at an Indian or Middle Eastern grocery. Otherwise, you can buy online.
For whole pods, try these Swad Green Cardamom, which is great for use in baked goods. One 3.5-ounce bag costs $6.93. If you want to make curries and other savory foods, try this Indus Organics Black Cardamom. One 6-ounce jar costs $19.99. For cardamom that you can use for baked goods and savory foods, go for this Frontier Natural Products Organic Ground Cardamom. One 2.08-ounce bottle costs $9.63.
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