Whether you’re creating a fragrant Thai curry paste or drinking a delicious cup of warming chai, it’s easy to overlook the intricate nature of the spices that you are using. Besides adding heaps of wonderful flavor to your dishes, spices in themselves have a deep and rich history all of their own, and many of them also provide a superb range of health benefits. There are more than 350 different kinds of spices in the world, not to mention spice blends, but in this article, we are going to focus on the Queen of Spices, Cardamom.
What Is Cardamom?
If you’ve eaten authentic Indian pilau rice, or enjoy cooking Arabic, Swedish, or Middle Eastern cuisine, then the chances are that you have come across cardamom before. Sometimes spelled cardamon rather than cardamom, this fragrant spice comes in both whole, seed, and ground form, each imparting a slightly different strength of flavor into your dishes.
Whole cardamom pods are the seed pods from the Elettaria cardamomum or Amomum cardamomum plant, which are both members of the Zingiberaceae (ginger) family. These spindle-shaped pods can be used in their own right but also contain dozens of tiny seeds that can be used whole or ground.
Generally, when people refer to cardamom, they are speaking of Elettaria cardamomum, which is more commonly known as green cardamom or true cardamom, but on occasion, you may also see black cardamom (Amomum cardamomum) listed in recipes.
What Is Black Cardamom?
Amomum cardamomum (black cardamom) is the sister of green cardamom; however, the plants are not especially closely related despite their similar names. Unlike green cardamom, named for its pale green color, black cardamom pods are much larger and have a distinct dark brown/black coloration hence their name. Aside from their visual differences, black cardamom also has a very different taste to green cardamom, carrying a strong smokey undertone that can completely alter the flavor profile of a cardamom dish. Within this article, we will primarily be focusing on green cardamom; however, keep an eye out for black cardamom, especially with regards to its uses in Ayurvedic medicine.
The History Of Cardamom?
Like most spices, cardamom has a very long and rich history that transcends many centuries, and it is believed that the use of the spice can be traced back for more than 4000 years! In Ancient Egypt, the Egyptians were known to chew cardamom to help their dental hygiene, a practice that was later adopted by the Romans and the Ancient Greeks, who also used cardamom to scent their perfumes and ritual oils. Elsewhere, the Vikings, too, were fascinated by the flavor of cardamom, taking the fragrant pods back to their homeland of Scandinavia, where it soon began to grow, forming an integral part of the future of Scandinavian cooking and culture.
Where Does Cardamom Come From?
Cardamom originally grew wild in the Western Ghats in Southern India - growing so well that the area actually became known as the Cardamom Hills. As the popularity of cardamom grew, it was transported to Europe via the Silk Road, which incidentally took the spice through Persia, Turkey, and Venice along the way. Today, cardamom is still grown in India; however, the world’s leading producer of cardamom is now Guatemala, thanks to the entrepreneurial exploits of a German coffee farmer known as Oscar Majus Kloeffler, who brought the spice to America in 1914.
Why Is Cardamom Known As The Queen Of Spices?
It may seem odd that we have labeled cardamom as the Queen of Spices, but the nickname becomes clearer when you learn that black pepper is considered to be the King. Both cardamom and black pepper formed an intrinsic part of the early spice trade, which traveled through the Silk Road, enriching Eastern and Western people’s lives, and beginning an ethnic blend of art and culture. As two of the most expensive and important spices of the time, cardamom and black pepper were affectionately dubbed the Queen and King of spices, nicknames which have stuck to this very day.
Why Is Cardamom Such An Expensive Spice?
When browsing the supermarket shelves for spices, you’ll notice that cardamom is often significantly more expensive than the rest, or else is sold in much smaller quantities to keep the price down. This is because cardamom is the third most costly spice globally, coming only after vanilla at number two, and saffron, which takes the top spot at number one - costing more than the price of gold!.
Spices have always been an expensive luxury; however, many spices, such as black pepper, have actually decreased in price over the years, making them much more affordable. The reason why certain spices, such as cardamom, vanilla, and saffron, remain so expensive comes down to how they are grown and the labor that is needed for their harvest.
For example, saffron is the stigma of the Crocus sativus plant, a beautiful purple flower. Each year, a Crocus sativus flower only produces three tiny stigmas, each of which must be harvested by hand and gently dried to produce the saffron that we eat. Vanilla, the second most expensive spice, demands a high price because it grows on a vine that travels high up in the trees, making it difficult and risky to harvest.
As you can see, the delicate nature of the saffron harvest and the difficulty associated with harvesting vanilla both contribute to their high prices - but what makes cardamom so expensive?
Well, like saffron and vanilla, harvesting cardamom too is a very labor-intensive process. Cardamom pods must be picked by hand when they are exactly three-quarters ripe. A day too early or a day too late can ruin a cardamom harvest, and for this reason, the process has yet to be automated with machinery.
Is It Worth Buying Expensive Spices?
When you actually sit down and look at how expensive spices such as cardamom, vanilla, and saffron are by weight, it can be quite staggering, but it is important to remember that when using spices, you only need a very small amount to make a big difference to your dish. A little cardamom goes a long way to enhance the flavors of your cooking, and so although it may seem like a bit of an investment, if stored in the correct way, a single pack of cardamom can help you to create many delicious meals. If you’re still finding it hard to justify the cost of these more expensive spices, then another thing to consider is buying them in bulk. Small packages of spices are often far more expensive than larger quantities due to the added cost of processing and packaging. Therefore, if you can afford the initial expense, it is much more cost-effective to buy in bulk.
Where To Buy The Best Quality Affordable Cardamom Spice
Cardamom can cost anywhere between $50 and $120 per pound, with some retailers charging even more! So, where can you buy quality cardamom without breaking your bank? Here are three places you should look at.
Walmart may not be the first store that comes to mind when you think about exotic spices, but as a supermarket giant, they do, in fact, offer a very large selection of ingredients. As one of the largest retailers in the world, and one which also has a reputation for providing good value for money, you’ll be able to find cardamom at a very reasonable price on their shelves. The reason why Walmart can afford to offer cardamom more cheaply than many of its competitors is that they are able to take advantage of their economies of scale, buying their stock in bulk and ultimately passing on this saving to their customers. If it’s the very best quality cardamom that you are looking for, then, we’ll be honest, there are better places to go, but for everyday ingredients, at Walmart, you get what you pay for, so it is a great place to start.
In the past year or so, Amazon has transformed into a one-stop-shop for virtually anything you can buy over the internet - including spices. As the largest retailer in the world, even beating Walmart to take the top-spot, Amazon can also benefit from the economies of scale, not to mention, its online marketplace is home to tens of thousands of retailers using it as a digital store-front. Buying cardamom on Amazon can be a little risky; after all, with so many retailers to choose from, it can be hard to know what you will get, but if you can sieve through many hundreds of listings, you may be able to find some hidden gems. As with most online marketplaces, the key to buying anything from Amazon is paying attention to the product reviews and only buying from reputable sellers.
Ayoub’s Dried Fruit And Nuts
Lastly, if you’re looking for exceptional quality but at a very competitive price, then you really should check us out here at Ayoub’s. Although spices may not be mentioned in our name, we source the very best dried fruits and nuts and a variety of other kitchen staples, including - you guessed it - cardamom. As a family-run business, we may not be able to benefit from quite the same economies of scale as Amazon and Walmart, but what we can do is offer you delicious fresh spices that have been sourced with their quality and flavor in mind. So whether you need cardamom to restock your spice rack or are trying spices out for the first time, drop us a visit at one of our stores, or alternatively visit our website.
Is Cardamom Good For You?
Aside from being a delicious ingredient, cardamom has also been used for many centuries for its health-giving properties and still features prominently in Ayurvedic medicine to this very day.
Cardamom In Ayurvedic Medicine
Both true green cardamom and black cardamom are used in Ayurvedic medicine to aid digestion, support oral health, remove excess water, and help the respiratory system. Here’s what cardamom is said to do.
Help maintain the gut microbiome
Cardamom has long been associated with the digestive system and is often taken as a drink after a meal to help reduce gas and bloating. In addition to helping the body digest its food, cardamom is also said to help boost good bacteria levels in the microbiome, which in itself helps to contribute to better overall health.
Maintain oral hygiene
If you’ve ever accidentally bitten down on a whole cardamom pod, you’ll notice it has an antiseptic taste. People have been voluntarily chewing the whole cardamom pod for centuries, dating as far back as the Ancient Egyptians who are recorded to have used cardamom to clean their teeth and freshen their breath. The reason why chewing cardamom is so good for your teeth is that cardamom oil is both antibiotic and antimicrobial, meaning that it helps to kill mouth bacteria to prevent gum disease and heal mouth ulcers.
Reduce water retention
In addition to aiding with digestion and also helping with oral hygiene, cardamom is also often prescribed in Ayurvedic medicine to help cleanse the Ama and to remove toxins from the body. Although there is little evidence that cardamom removes toxins, it is a natural diuretic and, therefore, can help reduce water weight and retention and support bladder and kidney function.
Help the respiratory system
Finally, black cardamom, in particular, is mentioned frequently as an expectorant that can aid the respiratory system in those who have a cough or a cold. By loosening mucus, black cardamom can help people to breathe more easily.
Is Any Of This Scientifically Proven?
Understandably, not everyone trusts Ayurvedic medicine, but that doesn’t rule cardamom out as a medicinal spice. There are a number of scientifically proven health benefits associated with cardamom - here are just five of them!
Five health benefits of cardamom that are backed by science!
Cardamom can help to lower your blood pressure
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a leading cause of death worldwide and can dramatically increase your chances of having a heart attack, a stroke, or developing dementia. Although maintaining a healthy weight and doing regular exercise are two of the best ways to reduce your blood pressure, some people also need to take medication. Although cardamom should not be used in place of prescribed blood pressure medication, studies on cardamom powder have shown it to be successful in decreasing blood pressure to within normal ranges when consumed regularly over a 12 week period.
Cardamom oil does have antibiotic properties
Several studies have been conducted on the antibiotic and antimicrobial properties of cardamom, especially in relation to its ability to heal gastric and mouth ulcers, as well as to kill common strains of bacteria, including E.Coli and Staphylococcus!
Cardamom has killed cancer cells in test tube studies
Many spices have been tested for their cancer-killing properties, including cardamom, which has shown promising results in animal studies and in test tube trials. Although the results of these tests appear to be positive, it’s far too early to get our hopes up just yet, but who knows, maybe cardamom could feature in a cure for cancer in the distant future.
Cardamom can help asthmatics to breath
Aside from being an expectorant, during trials, cardamom extract has also been found to relax the airways, making it easier for those with asthma to breathe and to take up oxygen, providing a sound background for its medicinal use in treating asthma.
Cardamom can lower your blood sugar levels
Lastly, cardamom powder has been found to help prevent obesity, improve glucose intolerance, and to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the liver of obese rats that were fed a high fat and high carbohydrate diet. Although this may not directly correlate to its use in humans, the study suggests that cardamom supplementation could be beneficial.
7 Pantry Staples That Pair Perfectly With Cardamom
To help you incorporate more cardamom in your cooking, we’ve put together this list of seven pantry ingredients that cardamom spice pairs perfectly with. So whether you’re interested in eating more cardamom for its health benefits or simply for its delicious flavor, you now have somewhere to start.
Cardamom and Cinnamon
Cardamom and cinnamon are two of the key flavors in chai - a warming and intensely spiced drink that is delicious both with or without milk. But you don’t need to make chai to enjoy the pairing of cardamom and cinnamon - why not try a twist on cinnamon rolls by adding the seeds from a cardamom pod or two to the filling?
Cardamom and Coffee
In the Middle East, cardamom coffee is often served after a meal to help with digestion. Coffee grounds are simply mixed with cardamom seeds and brewed together to make a delicious fragrant coffee - why not give it a try one day and see what you think?
Cardamom and Cream
Cream can be very sickly and, in some cases, can also lack any real flavor. To take your whipped cream to the next level; try adding half a teaspoon of cardamom seeds to your cream before whipping and watch as the flavor comes alive.
Cardamom and Plums
Cardamom pairs exceptionally well with a number of fruits, including plums, apples, and apricots. One of the easiest plum and cardamom recipes to try is a stewed plum and cardamom crumble, but the possibilities are endless.
Cardamom and Almonds
The sweet, nutty flavor of almonds is another flavor profile that pairs perfectly with the floral tones of cardamom. Whether you’re toasting almonds as a snack or are using flaked almonds in your baking, try adding in a little cardamom for some new flavor.
Cardamom and Carrots
We know this one sounds a little odd, but trust us, it is delicious! The sweetness of the carrot is very similar to that of some fruit, which is why it pairs so well with the aromatic flavor of cardamom.
Cardamom and Citrus
And lastly, we come to the zesty flavor pairing of cardamom and citrus - a match that we think is well and truly made in heaven! Try adding some cardamom pods to some homemade lemonade to create a delicious alcohol-free cocktail, or add a little cardamom spice to a lemon meringue pie.
These are just seven effortless cardamom flavor pairings, but we have to say, there’s not a lot that cardamom doesn’t go with!
How To Store Cardamom So That It Stays Fresh For Longer
Over time, although spices such as cardamom do not necessarily ‘go-off’ in the same way as other fresh foods, they can start to lose their flavor if stored incorrectly. Light, temperature, moisture, and oxygen are the enemies of most spices, and cardamom is no exception, and so it is essential to store it in such a way as to protect it from these conditions. If your cardamom is left in an open packet with access to the air, then it is more likely to absorb moisture and could become musty or moldy.
Where To Store Cardamom
If light, temperature, moisture, and oxygen are the enemies of cardamom, then to protect it from these elements, you must store your open spices in an airtight container, ideally placed in a cool, dry place that is away from direct sunlight - in most kitchens, a jar inside of a cupboard will more than suffice.
How Long Does Cardamom Last?
When stored correctly, cardamom can last for three to four years without losing too much of its potency, but even in ideal conditions, it will start to lose flavor over time. To ensure that you always get maximum flavor from your spices, it is always best to use them as soon as possible, but if you can’t use them quickly enough, then storing them in an airtight container will ensure that they remain usable for as long as possible.
How To Tell If Your Cardamom Needs To Be Replaced
It can be tricky to tell when spices are passed their best, especially if there is no use-by date on their packaging. Here are some things to consider:
Date and label them when you open them
To help you gauge the age of your spices, date, and label their packaging on the day you open it. This way, you can easily see how old your spices are and replace them if they have been open for a long time.
As aromatic spices age, they start to lose their scent and their flavor. If you open your cardamom’s packaging and are not instantly hit with the smell of cardamom, it is likely that it has lost its flavor and smell, so it is time to replenish your supply.
Look for mold
Another common way in which spices spoil is that they get wet and ultimately grow mold. If your spices are not stored in an airtight container, then they can absorb moisture from the air, causing powders to turn hard and seeds to turn soft. Give your cardamom a visual check to make sure that there is no white mold growing anywhere in the container.
Look at their color
When cardamom is fresh, it is usually a vibrant green color. If your cardamom pods have turned yellow-ish or pale, then this too is a sign that they may have started to lose their flavor.
How To Cook With Cardamom For Maximum Flavor
Cardamom can be purchased as a pod, as seeds, or as a ground spice, and each has its own slightly different flavor. To ensure that you get the most flavor out of your cardamom when cooking, here are our top five tips:
Green And Black Cardamom Are Not Interchangeable
The vast majority of the time, if a recipe calls for cardamom, it means green cardamom. Although green and black cardamom may share some characteristics, their flavor profile is very different, and so you should not substitute one in for the other.
Grind Your Own Cardamom Powder
Although you can buy cardamom seeds and even ground cardamom in the supermarket, for the maximum flavor, it is always best to buy the whole cardamom pod and to crack it open when you need cardamom seeds and then to grind them if you need cardamom powder. Although this may be a slightly more labor-intensive process, it ensures that your cardamom retains the most flavor by removing unnecessary processing.
Toast Your Cardamom Pods
Like most spices, cardamom comes even more alive when gentry toasted to release its essential oils. Before you grind your own seeds or use a cardamom pod in your dish, gently toast the husk in a dry skillet for 2-3 minutes. This extra step will impart a whole new depth of flavor and will also fill your kitchen with the beautiful scent of cardamom.
Use The Whole Pod For A Milder Flavor
Cardamom seeds hold the most cardamom flavor, and so by keeping them inside the pod, you can control their strength. Generally, dishes that call for the whole cardamom pod to be used are looking for a more subtle cardamom flavor, whereas those that use cardamom seeds or ground cardamom are looking for more of a punch.
Less Is Always More
If you are not experienced with spices, then it can be very easy to over spice your dishes. As with most highly potent ingredients, less is often more, and so if you are unsure about the quantity to use, it is always best to err on the side of caution.
Three Easy Cardamom Recipes To Try
If reading this post has left you hungry for more cardamom flavor in your life, then we’ve shared three of our favorite cardamom recipes below. We’ve chosen these three recipes in particular because they are easy and accessible for most people, but by all means, don’t be afraid to try something a little more complex!
Make Your Own Cardamom Chai
On a cold winter's day, nothing is more warming and comforting than a nice hot cup of chai. Chai is a strongly spiced drink that contains ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and clove, creating a beautiful fragrance and taste that truly warms you from the inside out. In recent years, chai has surged in popularity and can now be found on the menus of many trendy cafes, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to make it yourself. Whether you like your chai milky or made just with water, here’s how to make a basic chai tea.
You will need:
- Thinly sliced ginger
- A cinnamon stick
- Whole cardamom pods
- Whole cloves
- Any other chai spices you want to use
- Milk, or non-dairy alternative
- Sugar, honey, or maple syrup to taste.
To make your chai:
- Add all your spices and your ginger to a saucepan with two cups of water and bring to a gentle simmer for approximately five minutes.
- Next, add two black tea bags, turn the heat off, and allow the tea to steep for 10 minutes.
- After the time has elapsed, remove all of the whole spices and the teabags from the chai liquid and then ass two cups of milk and your preferred sweetener if you are using some.
- If you are looking for a creamier chai, then try steeping the spices and the tea in milk rather than water, and if you are looking for a dairy-free version, then try using a dairy-free milk alternative.
Create A Cardamom Scented Pilaf
If you usually cook your rice plain, then this cardamom pilaf is going to change that forever. By using broth rather than water and adding in the cardamom, the rice absorbs a whole new depth of flavor, becoming a delicious dish in its own right.
You will need:
- 1tbsp of oil
- Seven cardamom pods
- 1 cup of long-grain basmati rice
- 2 cups of broth (chicken or vegetable)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Lemon zest (optional)
To make the pilaf:
- Gently crush your cardamom pods with the flat blade of a knife to break open their husks and then extract their seeds.
- Add the seeds to a pestle and mortar and crush them but do not powder.
- Next, add your oil to a heavy-based saucepan and then gently fry off your cardamom seeds to release their oils and flavor.
- After a couple of minutes, tip in your long grain basmati rice and cover with the broth.
- Add in the zest of a lemon and your salt and pepper before decreasing the heat to low and covering the pot.
- Cook the pilaf for approximately 10-15 minutes covered with a lid or until all the water is absorbed, then remove it from the heat.
- For a fluffy texture, allow the pilaf to sit for two additional minutes before fluffing it with a fork - careful, fluffing it too early could make it mushy.
Whip Up Some Cardamom Cream
Finally, if you’re now craving something sweet, then this cardamom cream makes the perfect addition to virtually any dessert, and it’s super simple too!
You will need:
- One cup of heavy whipping cream
- 1-2 tablespoons of powdered sugar
- ½ a teaspoon of ground cardamom
To make the cardamom cream:
- For maximum flavor, grind your own cardamom seeds by adding them to a spice grinder or grinding in a pestle and mortar. Try to grind them as fine as possible.
- Next, simply add all of the ingredients to a bowl and whip them together until the cream is thickened to your desired texture.
- If you like a sweeter whipped cream, then don’t be afraid to add a little more powdered sugar, or if you prefer a natural cream, then omit the powdered sugar altogether.
So there you have it - three easy recipes to end this article about cardamom. Have you cooked with cardamom before? Have we convinced you to give it a try?