Cardamom is an aromatically complex spice that is piney, fruity, and slightly sweet. It works well with both savory and sweet dishes. The spice is purchased as either cardamom powder or cardamom pods. If you need a cardamom substitute, use nutmeg or allspice.
Cardamom is a unique and strongly flavored spice, derived from the seeds of a plant native to India and Indonesia. It is the third most expensive spice in the world by weight, behind saffron and vanilla. Cardamom comes in both green and black varieties. It can be purchased as cardamom powder or cardamom pods. Cardamom powder and pods are fantastic in sweet recipes like cookies, cakes, buns, or pudding (see recipes below). They are also delicous in savory recipes like garam masala, carrots, and chicken (see recipes below). Cardamom powder and pods are also very popular in teas like chai and persian (see recipes below).
What does cardamom taste like?
Cardamom is a complex and uniquely flavored spice, so it is difficult to describe the taste. I definitely recommend getting some; it is delightful. Green cardamom is fruity and slightly sweet. It is a bit citrusy, and contains herbal notes like mint and eucalyptus. There is also a kiss of spiciness similar to black pepper. Black cardamom is slightly smoky and minty.
Cardamom can be purchased as a powder, so it has been grinded for you before purchasing. The pro side of buying cardamom powder is convenience. You can easily sprinkle the powder into your tea, food, recipe, etc. without the hassle of having to grind it yourself, saving you time and work. The negative side is that the cardamom powder was ground awhile ago (who knows how long ago), and so a lot of the flavor and aroma has been lost to the air. Finally there is the issue for some people that the grinding is done in a factory somewhere, so you can never be completely sure about exactly what is in your cardamom powder or how it was produced.
The pods can be purchased as green or black. I typically use the green pods. This is probably the best way to purchase cardamom because the aromatic integrity is best preserved when it is kept intact as a whole pod. Grind the pods in a mortar and pestle, or a spice grinder if you have it. Or you can add them to the blender with some liquid. Or you can use a hammer or mallet to break up the pods. Alternatively, you can steep the whole pods in liquid to extract the flavor. Six cardamom pods should give you about one teaspoon of cardamom powder.
A cardamom substitue is difficult because cardamom is aromatically complex and unique, so there is no other spice that is a perfect cardamom replacement. In my opinion, nutmeg is the closest cardamom substitute. Allspice is another cardamom replacement. Both of these spices are slightly woody and sweet and mimic the complexity of cardamom; however, they do not contain the fruity citrusy notes of cardamom.
Ginger is my third pick for a cardamom substitute, and in fact works well if combined with nutmeg or allspice as a cardamom replacement. Cinnamon is also recommended by others as a cardamom substitute, though for me cinnamon flavor is too distinct for it to pretend to be another spice.
Again, I would recommend using actual cardamom if at all possible instead of subtituting. There is really no good subtitute for the complex profile of cardamom.
Cardamom is delicious when used in teas. Cardamom tea can be made simply by steeping the pods in hot water. Add some ginger, mint, honey, and/or lemon for a delightful, soul warming beverage.
Cardamom is also a component of some very popular tea blends: