Cardamom starts out life as the seedpod of a plant in the ginger family. There are two main kinds of cardamom: malabar and mysore. Malabar tends to have a delicate and floral flavor, while mysore tastes more pine-like and woodsy. In general, cardamom is considered a warming spice like cinnamon and nutmeg, and is valued as much for its fragrance as its flavor.
We learned some interesting facts while doing background research for this post! Did you know that cardamom is one of the world's most expensive spices, falling right behind saffron and vanilla beans? Also, it is indigenous to southwest India, and was exclusively cultivated there until relatively recently (around 1900). Now Guatemala has become one of the largest producers of the spice.
Cardamom is used extensively in Indian cuisine, where it shows up in savory dishes, desserts, and even beverages. It also shows up in Middle Eastern cooking, particularly as an ingredient in coffee. Cardamom is also one of the main spices in a lot of Scandinavian baked goods. You'll often find cardamom used in combination with other spices like cinnamon and clove or in savory spice mixes like garam masala.
We like using whole pods of cardamom to give subtle seasoning to pots of rice and braised meat dishes, much like we would use bay leaf. If you crush the pods before throwing them in the pot, more of their flavor will be extracted.
When it comes to cakes, breads, and pastries, we usually opt for pre-ground cardamom. The flavor is less potent, but cracking open the pods, scraping out the seeds, and grinding them up can be a pain when we need more than a pinch of the spice.
What are your favorite dishes with cardamom?
Related: Recipe: Authentic Chai