Cardamom as we know it is a spice that is used in meal preparation throughout the world. That is, from India to Spain and all over Europe to the Americas and even in Africa.
Cardamom is one of those versatile spices that is somewhat complex in flavor. This is because it simultaneously delivers spicy and floral flavors with citrus and herbal undertones. Yes, you read that right, it is both spicy and sweet.
Its diversity of cardamom allows it to be used in both savory and sweet dishes. It adds flavor to curries, pilau, bread, hamburgers, fish and meat marinades, soups and broths, and all manner of baked goods such as apple pies, cakes, cookies and so much more.
Whole cardamom pods work best in curries and rice while ground cardamom is more commonly used in dessert recipes. When using whole pods, be sure to remove them all before the dish is served. Biting into a cardamom pod can be a terrible experience for your taste buds!
Six cardamom pods are equal to approximately one teaspoon of ground cardamom. Once the whole cardamom is ground, it loses some of its flavors thus when cooking you will probably add more ground cardamom than the recipe calls for.
Store both your whole and ground cardamom in an airtight container away from direct heat and light sources as this will enable them to stay fresher for longer and I know that is what we all want, right?
Types of Cardamom
There are three two types of cardamom in the market; green cardamom and black cardamom. Green cardamom is known as the true cardamom and is the type of cardamom that you are most likely to come across at the store.
Green cardamom has a strong, sweet, and pungent flavor with warm undertones of eucalyptus, camphor, and lemon. It is often used for both sweet and savory dishes alike.
Black cardamom in contrast to the green one has smoky and cooling menthol undertones making it more ideal for meat dishes.
White cardamom is really the green ones bleached and is typically used in desserts. There is also Thai cardamom that is used in cooking and in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Where to buy Cardamom
Cardamom is arguably one of the world’s most expensive spices (I know you probably had no clue that it is only outranked by vanilla and saffron).
You will most likely find it at the store in the spice aisle or in the international aisle. Alternatively, if you miss it at the store, you can get it online on Amazon as some vendors usually have stock when others run out. You can purchase it in different forms; ground, whole, seeds.
Buy ground cardamom in small quantities as it is the most perishable and will last for approximately three months only.
The seed can be ground and lasts longer. To maximize its shelf life be sure to store it properly in airtight containers to maintain its flavor and strength for as long as possible. Whole pods can be stored for as long as one year.
Spices have distinctive flavors and mimicking the exact flavor with substitutes can be challenging. Being that cardamom has a complex flavor using a combination of different spices may produce a better alternative than just a single spice.
If you are all out of cardamom, allergic to it, or put off by its price, worry not. Listed here are some alternatives that are probably in your pantry!
1.Ground Cloves and Cinnamon Powder
This combo is heavenly and is arguably the best alternative on this list of substitutes to cardamom. The mixture gives off a warm and strong flavor of cloves blended with the woody and the sweet flavor of cinnamon powder results in a flavor almost similar to the taste of cardamom.
The mixture of ground cloves and cinnamon powder is best used in curries, stews, meat, and plenty of fish dishes.
When using this mixture as a substitute, ensure to use just one teaspoon of cardamom for half a teaspoon each of ground cloves and cinnamon powder. After tasting your meal, you can adjust as required.
2.Nutmeg and Cinnamon Powder
Cinnamon powder on its own adds some heat to the food you are preparing while nutmeg brings some sweet and mild citrusy flavor to the mix.
This combination is best suited for baking. When using this mixture as a substitute, always mix equal amounts of nutmeg and cinnamon powder.
Use the same amount of the mixture as you would of cardamom but do not add all of it all at once. Add it in little by little as you get it to your desired taste.
3.Cinnamon Powder and Ginger
Cardamom and ginger belong to the same plant family known scientifically as zingiberaceae. This thus makes it one of the most ideal alternatives here on this list.
It gives the dish being prepared the sweetness of cardamom while cinnamon powder offers some of its flavors and aromas to the dish. This mixture of cinnamon powder and ginger is best used in various rice and meat dishes.
When using this mixture as a substitute, it is ideal to use half a teaspoon of each to one teaspoon of cardamom.
4.Allspice and Peppercorns
This here is a strong blend that could easily overpower the other flavors of the dish being prepared if not used in just the right amounts.
To begin with, Allspice could be used on its own as a substitute. Since it is generally a combination of various spices, the different spices in it bring in a range of flavors to the food and peppercorn complements the blend with its spiciness and sharpness. Many chefs often recommend that it be used in curries and meat recipes.
In order to substitute the cardamom, the recipe calls for, only half the amount of allspice and peppercorn blend.
5.Cumin and Coriander
Coriander’s nutty and citrus flavor combined with cumin’s earthy flavors produce a flavor close to cardamom that goes perfectly with curry and meat dishes.
In a recipe, all you need to do is replace a teaspoon of cardamom with half a teaspoon of cumin and just a teaspoon of coriander and you are good to go.
6.Ground Cloves and Nutmeg
The warm and strong flavor of cloves goes a long way in complementing the sweet flavor offered by nutmeg.
When being applied as a substitute, it is advisable to use equal amounts of cloves and nutmeg to get the cardamom flavor or something close to it.
Other possible substitutes for cardamom
Apple pie spice consists of allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon powder. Sometimes apple pie spice contains ground ginger and cardamom.
Even when the apple spice pie lacks cardamom you can still use it as a suitable substitute for cardamom when making your sweet dishes and recipes.
Generally speaking, you could also play with a mixture of different spices to achieve a possible substitute for cardamom. Some possible mixtures that you can play around with are;
- Nutmeg, ground coriander, and peppercorns.
- Nutmeg, ground coriander, and allspice.
Tips for saving your dish when you use too much cardamom/spice
- Increase the amount of the other ingredients in the dish without increasing that of the cardamom or spice being used. This allows you to balance the flavors without wastage.
- Add some starchy vegetables like potatoes and carrots to soak up that extra bit of spice without fundamentally affecting the flavor of the food. It is important to note that this method might affect other spices so you would need to do a taste test to see if the food needs more seasoning.
- The flavor of cardamom can be masked with the addition of other spices that are just as pungent as cardamom. Some examples of spices that can help counter an excess of cardamom include cloves and cinnamon. Herbs such as rosemary can also be used but be sure to choose the spice or herb that suits the flavor of your dish. This method is not for use if you have gone far overboard with the cardamom as adding another spice will result in the dish having two overpowering spices thus making it completely inedible.
- You can also physically remove the cardamom seeds the moment you notice or realize you have added too much.
- Finally, you can add something sweet like honey or sugar to neutralize the bitterness that comes with excess cardamom.
We can say that there is definitely no perfect replica of the unique cardamom flavor that we love so much no matter the spice combination used.
However, with these listed options we can come pretty close to the taste of cardamom and still enjoy our dishes without losing flavor. The substitute you use will ideally be determined by whether or not your recipe is for a sweet or savory meal.
Always remember not to use too much all at once. Ensure to always taste and make adjustments as required as these are strong spices that can easily overpower your dish if the right amount is not used.
Now, go ahead and try some of these inexpensive suggestions. They may just become your new favorites and take your taste buds on a culinary adventure.