Spice Cabinet 101: Cardamom

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Spice Cabinet 101: Cardamom
Spice Cabinet 101: Cardamom
I love the smell of freshly ground cardamom (which is a good thing because I can't really get away from it). Here at Spices Inc we're always grinding and blending spices on a daily basis, and cardamom is no different.  Cardamom is a basic ingredient that is included in many different recipes and seasonings, and also plays an intricate role in their flavor profiles.  It is also generally considered to be the third most expensive spice in the world, after saffron and vanilla.

Cardamom comes from the seeds of plants from the genus Eletteria and Amomum in the Zingiberaceae family. Pods from the genus Eletteria are light green, while pods from the genus Amomum are larger and darker (black and red cardamom). The most common type of cardamom, also known as green cardamom, comes from the same family as turmeric and ginger. It is indigenous to India and Sri Lanka, but can now be found growing in Cambodia, Guatemala, Indonesia, Mexico and Vietnam. These green pods can be sold with their natural color, or are bleached white and then sold.

Green Cardamom
Cardamom can be purchased and used in a variety of forms. Green cardamom pods are typically picked before fully ripened. This is because when the pods become fully ripe they open and allow the seeds to blow away. For this reason, the pods are picked while they are still green, and the smaller the pod, the more flavor they have. When purchased, these green pods contain small cardamom seeds. These seeds are typically dark brown to almost black and have a sticky texture. The stickier the seed, the fresher the product.

Black Cardamom
Many people have heard of green cardamom, but not as many know about its long lost cousin – black cardamom. Although they are both in the cardamom family, black cardamom is unique in looks, aroma and taste. Black cardamom is dried over an open fire which provides it a smoky flavor and aroma. When used whole in dishes, black cardamom seeds provide a mysterious, almost bacony flavor. Black cardamom is popular in Indian dishes and is more of a warm spice, while green cardamom is a cool spice. This makes black cardamom preferred in exotic spice blends such as Garam Masala and Tandoori Spice.  

Red Cardamom
Red cardamom, the least know of the three cardamom varieties, is also known as Chinese black cardamom or false cardamom. Its pods are significantly larger than green cardamom pods and only slightly larger than black cardamom pods. The pods of red cardamom are much thicker and stronger than those of the green and black variety and resemble the shell of a walnut. These pods are used for flavoring in the cooking of slow braised meat dishes which are popular in Chinese cuisine.

The Many Forms of Cardamom
Green, black and red cardamom can each be used in three separate ways, or even a combination of the three. The first is using the whole pod. Whole cardamom seed pods are typically used in long cooking dishes where the flavor of the pod can fully infuse the dish. In addition to using black cardamom pods in masala and Tandoori spice blends, they can also be used in cooking soups, stews and casseroles. The pods are almost always removed at the end of cooking before the dish is served. When green pods are used, on the other hand, they are typically left to mingle with the other ingredients in the dish and eventually the pods become very pliable and can be eaten.  

The next way to use Cardamom is by extracting the seeds from the pods. Each green cardamom pod contains approximately 10 seeds, black pods approximately 48 seeds  and red pods approximately 32 seeds. These seeds can be used whole in dishes and are extremely flavorful and complex – a little goes a long way. Although each different variety of cardamom has its own specific flavor, in general it is lemony and light with a woodsy, rugged aroma (the scent of red cardamom especially reminded me of freshly split wood).

When using cardamom in a spice blend or other types of cooking, the seeds can be ground into a powder. This is the form of cardamom that many home chefs use, and for the freshest taste the seeds can be ground right before they are added to a dish. Cardamom seed powder is a very popular ingredient in a variety of different types of cuisine including Indian, Finnish, Swedish and South Asian. Ground cardamom intensifies both sweet and savory flavors, and for this reason can be used in a variety of dishes.

Some of our favorite recipes that use cardamom powder include:
Punkabi Chicken with Tomatoes & Spinach
Red Lentil Soup with Vadouvan
Trinidad Style Curry Chicken
Doro Wat (Ethiopian Chicken)

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