Meet Your Ingredients

Meet Your Ingredients: Cardamom

While I generally think of Scandinavian cookies and rolls, cardamom is traditionally an Indian spice with a distinct flavor that with add warmth to both sweet and savory dishes.

The Basics

A seedpod of a plant in the ginger family, cardamom has a very unique and distinct taste that is best described as aromatic, spicy, and slightly sweet. Originally from eastern India, cardamom is frequently found in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine; although it’s also extremely popular in Sweden and other Scandinavian countries (you can thank the Vikings for that).

While pricey, a little goes a long way as just a pinch of cardamom brings a serious punch of flavor. But before we get into which type of cardamom to buy and how to use it in cooking and baking, let’s take a quick look at the health highlights.

Nutrition Overview

One of the biggest health benefits of cardamom is it’s rich content of disease-fighting antioxidants. There’s also test tube studies showing anti-bacterial effects of essential oils found in cardamom; however, these studies have not yet been done in actual humans.

With it’s slight minty taste, it’s no surprise that a traditional use of cardamom is to help with digestive issues, particularly discomfort and nausea. However, the research is still inconsistent on whether or not cardamom can actually heal some GI problems, particularly ulcers.

Calorie-wise, 1 tablespoon of ground cardamom provides approximately 18 calories, 0 g fat, 65 mg potassium, 4 g carbohydrate, 1.5 g fiber, and 0.5 g protein. It also contains small amounts of calcium, vitamin D, iron, and magnesium.

How to select

There are two main things to consider when buying cardamom: which type to buy and which form. Let’s start with the type of cardamom first.

Green vs Black

There are two main types of cardamom: green and black. There’s also white cardamom, but it’s technically green cardamom that’s been bleached from light exposure.

If you’ve had something with cardamom before, chances are it was green cardamom. While more popular, it’s usually the more expensive than black. Taste-wise, green cardamom has a delicate herbal, slightly citrus-y, sweet flavor that goes well in both sweet and savory dishes.

In contrast, black cardamom has a much stronger, minty flavor and can sometimes be described as smoky. While black cardamom is usually reserved only for savory dishes, it can be used in chai tea, where the desired flavor is more intense.

And as for the white cardamom, it has the weakest flavor and aroma of the three. I’ve never used it before, but from what I’ve researched, the only reason to use it is for aesthetic reasons, not flavor.

Whole vs Ground

For the biggest punch of flavor, you’ll want to stick with buying whole pods and then grinding it yourself if needed. You can also buy cardamom seeds, but they tend to lose their flavor quickly when outside of the pod.

To grind cardamom seeds, simply use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Technically you could use  coffee grinder, but only if you don’t mind a little cardamom spice being added to your coffee beans ;).

While whole pods are more fragrant and often cheaper, I often buy pre-ground cardamom for baking purposes. Since baked goods usually call for such a small amount of ground cardamom, the convenience factor outweighs the slightly less potent flavor in my opinion.

However, if using cardamom to season rice or meat dishes, I recommend buying and using whole pods of cardamom instead.

How to store

Regardless if ground or whole pods, cardamom should be stored in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark place.
Whole pods start losing their flavor after about a year, while ground cardamom starts losing its flavor within 4-6 months.

How to use in cooking/baking

Cardamom can be used in so many different savory and sweet dishes as well as in beverages (especially tea and mulled wine).

For savory dishes, whole cardamom pods can be added to pots of rice or braised meat dishes. For even more flavor, crush the pods a little before adding to your saucepan or pot. In general, cardamom goes well with chicken, duck, red meat, and lentils as well as curries and rice dishes.

Sweet dishes, like sweet rolls, muffins, pancakes, pastries, and cakes usually use ground cardamom. It’s also delicious added to oatmeal for a truly warming breakfast. Orange, vanilla, almond, cinnamon or coffee-flavored baked goods generally do well with the addition of cardamom

What are your favorite cardamom recipes?

I’d love to hear! Share the recipe below in the comments or tag @TheHealthyToast_RD on a picture of the recipe on Instagram.

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