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Cardamom: The Queen of Spices

This exotic spice has an intoxicating, rich aroma with complex flavors of sweet floral notes, camphor, lemon, mint and a hint of pepper. Cardamom is the dried seed pod of an herbaceous perennial plant in the ginger family and is native to India, Bhutan and Nepal. Inside the pod, the seeds are grouped in clusters with a sticky resin-like coating; this is an indication of certain freshness.

There are three varieties of cardamom with the two main types being the black and green pods and the white cardamom, which is simply bleached green cardamom. This process of bleaching softens the dominance of the menthol note giving the white pod a sweet and pleasant flavor. In some European countries, specifically Scandinavia, the white cardamom is the preferred style found in most of their baked goods.

Black cardamom has a totally different flavor than the popular green pods. When the pods are dried, they turn black which gives them a prominent smoky characteristic with strong peppery overtones. It is one of the essential ingredients in North Indian curries. Black cardamom has even made its way as a primary ingredient in certain fusion cuisines like Indian-Chinese Sichuanese red-cooked dishes. It also works very well in bitter foods that require extended cooking, such as collard greens. Just by adding a few pods to rice or lentils during the cooking process can heighten the flavor of these simple dishes to something quite interesting. Sometimes I like to use cardamom when making a dry rub for meat, or as an ingredient in sauces.

Green cardamom is found in many of the renowned Indian curry powders as an essential ingredient. The famous African berbere spice mix uses green cardamom as well to balance the heat. Green cardamom combines well with numerous other spices such as, anise, cinnamon, clove, cumin, caraway, chile peppers, ginger, paprika, saffron and vanilla. In fact, next to saffron and vanilla, cardamom was one of the most expensive spices to buy, but ever since it has been grown and harvested in Guatemala, the prices are now more affordable.

In most Middle Eastern countries you will taste the exotic flavor of green cardamom in their coffee beverages. Have you ever tried Turkish coffee? This signature drink is famous for adding whole green pods to the coffee beans and grinding them together. After it is brewed, the coffee is generously sweetened before serving. What a coffee experience!

The flavor of cardamom is similar to many other spices that develop during the drying process. Once dried, the tough outer husk creates a protective shell for the aromatic seeds inside. But take care not to expose the pods to extreme sunlight, as they are photosensitive and the light will cause oxidation, or fading; keep your cardamom stored away from direct light.

Cooking with cardamom might call for the entire pod, seeds or ground pods. For making stews, the pods can be slightly crushed but left whole to infuse flavor into the dish as it cooks. If the recipe asks for the seeds only, you may find yourself opening up as many as 30 to 40 pods to get enough seeds, which is where the real flavor comes from. Ground cardamom may be used instead of whole pods or seeds, but the essential oil of the seeds is quickly lost once the pod is broken apart. The ground version is often used for baked goods and fruit dishes.

Every foodie wizard loves having a few prominent spices in their kitchen trove and cardamom is right up there with the must-haves. And I’m sure that most of the great chefs would agree that cardamom is one of the most versatile spices on the market. The wonderful ways in which to use cardamom span from baking to cooking to making exotic meat rubs and marinades. Add a pinch of cardamom to pancake batter, or cookie dough. Try experimenting with whole pods by tossing a few into apple cider or a rice casserole.

We have whole green and black pods, ground green and decorticated seeds. Don’t be shy about using cardamom – the end result will be marvelous! Here’s our version of spiced cookies using cardamom that I’m sure you and your family will love, especially during the fall season.

Spiced Cookies – click link

Enjoy!