Chasing Flavors: Cardamom

Aromatic and slightly sweet, cardamom is an enigmatic spice native to India, Nepal and Bhutan but found in favorite dishes the world over. In fact, though India consumes nearly half the world's supply, the other major consumer of the green stuff is Scandinavia.

Found in both green and black varieties, cardamom is the world's third most expensive spice by weight. The common green cardamom is small, with a papery pod filled with tiny black seeds, and is found in sweet and savory dishes. The less common black cardamom is rougher and larger than its green counterpart, with a smokier flavor profile. While ground and powdered cardamom can be purchased, it's the pod variety you'll want. Once ground, cardamom very quickly loses its essence and flavor, so it is best to grind the seeds yourself to ensure quality, freshness and potency. A good rule to follow when measuring out cardamom is 10 pods equals 1½ teaspoons of ground cardamom.

Classically, you'll find cardamom in Indian cooking, but its uses are numerous. In Scandinavia, for instance, it is worked into baking: Crushed cardamom is used to make the mildly sweet Finnish bread pulla, while in Sweden, it is found in cakes, aquavit, even meatballs. In the Middle East, green cardamom powder flavors sweet dishes with its powerful aroma and warming notes, as well as traditional flavoring in coffee and tea. Cardamom pods are ground together with coffee beans to produce a powdered mixture of the two, which is boiled with water to make coffee. In Southeast Asia, green cardamom is found in traditional Indian sweets and, probably most famously, masala chai. Depending on the blend, black cardamom can be found in garam masala and curries.

Cardamom is an amazingly versatile spice and would be a great addition to any cook's flavor arsenal. Don't be intimidated by this fragrant spice. Though aromatic and distinct, cardamom can really elevate one's cooking when done with finesse. This cardamom crumb cake is inviting and comforting, while this carrot halwa ice cream transports one to a different time and place.