f you have ever tasted Biryani (Indian flavored savory rice) or kheer (Indian rice pudding) or the famous Finnish pulla, you would probably identify the aroma of cardamom. The sweet and mystical spice was used by the Greeks and Romans in their perfumes and the ancient Egyptians as mouth fresheners. Even today, Cardamom (green) is one of the most expensive spices. It’s not just native to the South-East Asian belt, it’s increasingly used in Europe as well.
1- Cardamom, ginger, and turmeric belong to the same botanical family Zingiberaceae: cardamom is part of the Zingiberaceae family and is sold in pods, seeds, and powder form. The pods can be split open to expose the aromatic seeds. Both turmeric and ginger are roots, or rhizomes, while cardamom is the seed of the plant. It pairs very well with turmeric and ginger. Turmeric imparts a deep yellow color to curries, ginger adds the heat and punch as it can be quite sharp, and cardamom gives a sweet, almost limey-floral aroma. Even though they come from the same family – they have a very unique flavor profile. While cardamom and turmeric are used dried, ginger is best used fresh.
2- Cardamom pods (green cover) need not be discarded: Cardamom spice is the small black seeds in tiny green pods or black in case of black cardamom. You can use the whole pods (remove them before serving the dish) or powder the seeds and add that. You don’t need to discard the skin (pods) and even though they cannot be used as a spice because they are extremely fibrous, you can still use them in infusions.
The green cardamom pods are recommended for these options: Boil them in water, strain, let cool, and use the infused water. They are great for mulled wine, mocktails, lemonade, the famous masala chai, or even flavored rice and curries – don’t forget to remove the pods after the dish is cooked. You can also wrap them in a muslin pouch and keep them in your linen closet or add it to your potpourri. Add the pod to any oil, preferably a neutral aroma oil – and you have an aromatic oil – make sure there is no moisture. Powder the pods and add a tiny bit of honey – you have an all natural exfoliator ( check for allergies – some skin types are very sensitive)
3- There are two types of cardamom and both are very different: There are two types of cardamom, one is pale green and the other black (deep brown). The pale green cardamom has a delicate aroma while the black is strong and smoky. The pale green one is much more expensive than the black and is used equally in desserts and savory dishes, while the black is favored for savories. Some researchers believe the black cardamom is not really cardamom but a close relative, while others classify cardamom having two varieties: green and black. The black cardamom is 3 times the size of the green one. Though black cardamom is used mostly in savory dishes, it is certainly not limited to it. The famous Indian masala chai gets its flavor from green cardamom and ginger.
While green cardamom pairs very well with almost any spice adding a sweet aroma, the black cardamom has a very bold smoky aroma and cannot always be paired with other strong spices. You can either take the “less is more” approach and use just a few seeds so you have the hint of the aroma that will not overpower the spice blend, or “go boldly” and use half a pod and reduce the other spices so black cardamom is playing the lead role in the dish. Paired together, the black and green can harmonize with each other in dishes like chicken curry, biryani, chickpeas (channa masala) and red kidney beans (rajma).
The green cardamom pairs very well with saffron. Most Indian desserts use saffron and cardamom, but it also pairs very well with nutmeg and black pepper. Try adding a pinch of cardamom powder to your lemonade; it adds a unique sweet flavor.
Both types of cardamom are best bought as pods and should only be ground when required. It’s not hard to powder them, and you can use a rolling pin to powder the required amount. Always store your spices in airtight glass jars. You can also use the whole pod for cooking
4- It is not just a spice, it has health benefits: Like ginger, cardamom is great for digestion and can combat nausea and motion sickness too. Some ginger juice mixed with cardamom, honey, and a dash of lime is said to do wonders for nausea.
It is not only used as a breath freshener but as a great “detoxicant.” Since it works as a diuretic, it helps the body flush out the toxins. It is also said to be great for liver cleansing and a home remedy for hiccups.
The seed is considered an excellent source of limonene, a chemical typically found in the skin of citrus fruits. Limonene is an antioxidant and used to prevent and treat cancer.
So next time you are making your tea – add a pinch of cardamom for flavor AND health benefits.
5- White cardamom is not a variety of cardamom: white cardamom is really the green ones bleached, it’s devoid of most of the flavor and aroma. When picking your cardamom, pick the green ones – they are the most aromatic.