Not even a year ago, I discovered a new multi-talented spice for my culinary uses that has become one of my favorite ingredients for many dishes.
Desperately hungry at lunch and wanting to try something different, I stumbled into an Indian restaurant. There I discovered some dark green pods in my dish, which had a wonderful spicy and hot, but at the same time fresh, flavor.
This turned out to be cardamom.
Thus began an investigative journey to find out more about the wonderful history of this spice, as well as its uses in healing, and many flavorful dishes. Let’s take a look at what I learned, so you can begin using cardamom in a variety of ways in your own home.
Freshen Up Your Spice Rack With a New Flavor
I had never used cardamom at home because I didn’t know it could be useful for a variety of applications, both savory and sweet.
At a first glance, it might seem weird that the same spice that flavors an Indian curry can also be found in your Christmas gingerbread cookies or autumn apple pies. After all, it numbers among one of many roasty, toasty warming spices!
But this spice has a huge range of uses that can be employed to spruce up even ordinary fare, to make it something special. Once you add it to your repertoire of spices, you will never want to be without it again.
But What is Cardamom?
This exotic spice belongs to the ginger family. In comparison to its relative, whose roots are the important part, cardamom is best known for the flavors found in its fruits and seeds.
Shortly before ripening, the pods are hand picked. The bigger the pods and the more intense their color, and the higher the price they can command.
The color can vary from brown (oven-dried) to green (sun-dried) and white (bleached). Key growing areas include India, Sri Lanka, and Guatemala.
You might know that vanilla and saffron are some of the most expensive spices, but cardamom is right there with them. This is because of the meticulous harvesting process that’s required, and the fact that the pods won’t be ready for harvest until three years after planting.
How to Get the Most Out of This Exotic Spice
You will definitely achieve the best flavor when you buy whole cardamom pods, and grind them with a mortar and pestle at home, as needed.
You can either use them as they are, or roast the seeds in a pan. Either way, you will notice when the seeds release their signature aroma.
If you buy the spice already ground, a good portion of the aromatic compounds will have dissipated already, leaving you with a “flat” flavored spice that requires you to add significantly more to a dish in order to have any effect on the taste.
Whole pods will also keep fresh for a longer time than the ground type. Just store it in a cool, dark place in an airtight container.
Looking for a way to keep all of our dried herbs and spices organized? Check out Foodal’s review of the best spice racks for your kitchen.
In any case, there is another way of using cardamom instead of opening them up and grinding the seeds – just add the whole pod to your dish, and cook it along with the other ingredients. Like a bay leaf, take it out before serving (or use it as a garnish when plating).
This works well for curry dishes and stews, but not so much for baked goods.
There are different areas where this spice may be useful in improving your health, because the seeds are packed with lots of beneficial essential oils.
Even in the 16th and 17th centuries, herbal books contained information about the healing and therapeutic powers of this spice.
Today, it still plays an important role as a medicinal herb – especially in connection with Ayurveda, naturopathy, and traditional Chinese medicine.
According to Ayurvedic theory, cardamom is known for having a powerful effect on the so-called “digestive fire.” It’s stimulating, warming, and may help you to keep a level head. Try chewing on the seeds, so they release their essential oils.
A useful side effect is that it provides fresh breath, too, as eucalyptol is one of its main substances. This is also why the spice can be helpful for those with respiratory infections and diseases – the oil acts as an expectorant and decongestant.
The main application for cardamom is associated with alleviating digestive problems. While it stimulates the stomach, gall bladder, and salivary glands, it may also help to prevent feelings of fullness and abdominal bloating.
Another ingredient, camphor, is useful for boosting blood circulation. Together with borneol and eucalyptol, it makes cardamom an antibacterial, antispasmodic, and mood enhancing spice.
For women, this effect can be helpful during menstruation. Some Indian-inspired dishes and chai drinks are definitely worth a try on those days, because they not only taste great, but may be of help in lessening pain, too.
These qualities in particular make it the perfect spice to use throughout the whole year. Benefit from its warming and stimulating character during cold winter months, or make use of its spicy freshness in summery dishes, like grilled meat and veggies.
So, how can you use cardamom in your own kitchen? Actually, you can spice up practically anything with it.
From personal experience, I can recommend including it in a marinade for fish or meat. Last week I mixed a pod into my meatballs, and they had a wonderful new twist.
Foodal recommends Spice Monger’s Organic Cardamom Pods available at Amazon.
If you’re planning to prepare a soup, it’s the perfect choice there as well. Especially in combination with sweet potatoes or root vegetables and coconut milk, the pods will develop their full flavor and give your soup that certain something.
Spice up your savory or sweet rice dishes or chutneys with a healthy pinch.
Last but not least, you can also use cardamom for flavoring sweet treats like apple pies, chocolate-based recipes, or this delicious Twisted Cinnamon & Cardamom Loaf.
The next time you’re having a cup of coffee or tea, add some of the spice, or enjoy your own Indian-style chai latte.
The staff at Foodal are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice. Foodal and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using supplements or manufactured or natural medications.
Photo credits: Shutterstock.
About Nina-Kristin Isensee
Nina lives in Iserlohn, Germany and holds an MA in Art History (Medieval and Renaissance Studies). She is currently working as a freelance writer in various fields. She enjoys travel, photography, cooking, and baking. Nina tries to cook from scratch every day when she has the time and enjoys trying out new spices and ingredients, as well as surprising her family with new cake creations.