Cardamom is an aromatic plant of the ginger family, grown widely in India and used extensively in cooking throughout South Asia, but it is also becoming increasingly popular in other parts of the world. The plant itself grows as a woody perennial and can reach up to sixteen feet in height. It has long, thin stems, and small, oval-shaped leaves with a light green color. It produces small, brown seed pods that contain the cardamom seeds, which are dark brown in color and have a more intense flavor.
Cardamom has a highly distinctive aroma and flavor, one of the most intense of any of the spices. It has a pleasant sweetness without the bitterness of some other spices, making it ideal for adding complexity to both sweet and savory dishes. While the specific flavor of cardamom varies depending on the type you use, it is generally described as sweet, warm and spicy, with a slightly pungent, resinous note and citrus zest.
Cardamom is one of the most expensive spices on the market due to its labor-intensive harvesting process. The pods must be painstakingly hand-picked when they are mature and just beginning to turn brown in order to retain the maximum amount of flavor and aroma. The pods are dried, then split open to release the tiny dark brown seeds inside. These seeds are then ground into powder, providing the most intense flavor and aroma.
The use of cardamom in cuisine is varied and long-standing, with evidence that it was used in ancient India as far back as 4,000 BC. Today, it is widely used in both savory and sweet dishes in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Middle East and much of Northern Africa, and is gaining popularity in Europe and North America.
In Indian and Pakistani cuisine, cardamom is most commonly used in the form of garam masala. It is a blend of spices, including cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, nutmeg, cloves and peppercorns, that is used to give dishes a warm, comforting spiciness. Cardamom is also used in many sweet dishes like kheer and halva, as well as the South Indian dish rasam.
In the Middle East, cardamom is a common ingredient in coffee, infusing it with a fragrant, sweet flavor. In Turkey, cardamom is commonly used in baking, and in Egypt it is used in traditional sweet treats like baklava and beghrir, a kind of fluffy pancake.
In traditional European cuisine, cardamom is mostly used in baking. It is often added to cookies, cakes, and pastries, providing depth and spicy notes that balance out the sweetness. In Scandinavian cooking, it is used to flavor sausage and herbal liqueurs, and it is even part of the traditional mulled wine blend, gløgg.
In the U.S. and Canada, cardamom is being used more and more in both sweet and savory cooking, adding a unique layer of complexity to dishes. It pairs particularly well with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, and vanilla, and can be used in almost any dish to provide a warm, sweet, and spicy flavor.
Whether you are cooking up a classic Indian or Middle Eastern dish or experimenting with cardamom in your own cuisine, it is sure to be a welcome addition. Just a bit of this aromatic spice will bring any dish to life, adding complexity and nuance that you won’t get from any other spice. So go ahead, be bold and experiment with cardamom – you won't regret it."