Spice support: cardamom

 cardamom pods

Do you remember the first time you tasted cardamom? Perhaps it occurred when you nibbled on Swedish meatballs or drank masala chai. Cardamom's enchanting flavor has made a home for itself in cuisines across the globe. 

One of the world's most expensive spices, cardamom ranks just behind saffron and vanilla in cost, sharing their persnickety growing conditions and laborious hand-harvesting requirements. The seed pods do not ripen all at once, so the harvest season stretches for months, with skilled workers plucking only pods that are almost completely ripe (when fully ripe, the pods explode and the seeds scatter everywhere). Once picked, the pods are dried in special sheds, because sunlight would bleach them (see more on this later). Even though cardamom is native to the Indian subcontinent, Guatemala now ranks as the world's largest producer of the spice.

The spice is used extensively in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, and there is no doubt that cardamom-spiced sweet treats will be found at countless Eid celebrations today. On the savory side, cardamom flavors stews, curries, biryanis, and rice dishes, as well as being a major component of spice blends such as garam masala, baharat, ras el hanout, and curry powders. Since the spice pairs well with other baking spices such as cinnamom and nutmeg, it graces many sweet treats such as baklava. Cardamom found its way to Scandinavia through the spice trade, where it was eagerly appropriated. 

Cardamom is a member of the ginger family, and like its cousin, it possesses a warm, sweet fragrance with citrus and floral notes underpinned by hints of eucalyptus. The outer shells of cardamom pods have little flavor; the intense taste is found in the tiny inner seeds. Properly stored, cardamom pods will stay fresh indefinitely. Shelled (decorticated) cardamom seeds are less expensive but don't keep as well. Ground cardamom is easy to use in baking applications, but as with most ground spices, its flavor diminishes quickly. Ground cardamom should be a dark brown color; lighter colored powders include the ground pods and are not as flavorful.

The spice known as black cardamom is not true cardamom and the flavor profile, while reminiscent of the green pods, varies considerably. The black pods are much larger and the seeds have a woodsy, smoky scent with camphor undertones. Black cardamom is mainly used in savory Indian dishes. You may also see white cardamom pods in spice stores. This is not another variety of cardamom, rather it is the green pods that have been bleached with sulphur dioxide.

The story behind white cardamom is one of technology replicating an obsolete process. When cardamom was first exported to ports far from its native lands, the poor storage conditions on the ships would expose the pods to sun, salt, and air, causing the color (and flavor) to fade. Old habits die hard, so now cardamom is artificially bleached to meet consumer expectations. You may substitute green for white cardamom in any recipe.

4 Comments

  • mr.paul  on  6/25/2017 at 10:29 PM

    Great information, inspires me to break it out some more.

  • sir_ken_g  on  6/26/2017 at 8:28 AM

    Needs to be kept refrigerated.

  • darcie_b  on  6/26/2017 at 8:28 PM

    I've never read anywhere that cardamom needs to be refrigerated. I've been keeping mine with my other spices. Where did you learn that?

  • Gneissspice  on  10/6/2017 at 7:23 PM

    Darcie, I love this post. I often have customers asking for white cardamom (and I didn’t know it’s origin)—but now can explain why we don’t carry it. And as for your introduction. I absolutely know the first time I had cardamom was in Tanzania, during my study abroad in college. I can’t drink sweet chai tea without immediately being brought back there. Great post!

Post a comment

You may only comment on the blog if you are signed in. Sign In

Seen anything interesting? Let us know & we'll share it!

Archives