What is Cardamom?
Although it is recognized as the third most expensive spice in the world by weight, trailing only vanilla and saffron, cardamom is quite a versatile spice. A little pinch will be just enough to give your dish a unique kick, so the monetary aspect is really not all that it seems. Native to India and Indonesia, the spice itself is created from the seeds of several plants related to ginger. When we say versatile, we mean versatile. Cardamom can be prepared using the whole pod, in seeds, or ground up, and there is both green and black cardamom to choose from. Additionally, it proves to serve as an excellent inclusion for both sweet and savory foods. Today, the spice grows in several areas. Green cardamom, or true cardamom as they refer to it, is often seen in Middle Eastern and Scandinavian cuisines. Some people prefer the bleached version of green cardamom, which forms a spice with less flavor, called white cardamom. This type prefers to be grown in the tropical areas of India, Malaysia, and even all the way in Central America. A less widely used cardamom, black cardamom, contains darker and larger pods. When utilized, especially in Asia, black cardamom works better as a complement to savory dishes than to sweeter items (unless you are from the southern regions of India). Black cardamom is grown in the complete opposite type of climate in the Himalayas.
Surprisingly, cardamom is used most widely in Scandinavian areas, most notably Sweden. The Vikings brought organic cardamom back from their exploration in the Middle East many centuries ago, if you may be wondering why the Nordics enjoy the spice so much. They will put cardamom in just about everything sweet and savory, even burgers.
How to Use Cardamom?
For first timers and those less familiar with the highly fragrant spice, cardamom can seem to be a bit intimidating and confusing with exactly how to use it, depending on what you are making with it. Before we discuss this, though, it might be beneficial to understand exactly how to describe the taste of cardamom, so you can get a glimpse into what you are putting into your sweet or savory meal. Well, cardamom's taste is very hard to describe because of its complexity, but it is safe to say that it is delicious. Hints of mint and lemon are definitely present, but its herbal and slightly spicy resemblance create a bittersweet and very natural taste. If that sounds pleasing and adventurous for you, which it obviously will, then you are ready to find out how to use cardamom properly.
Beginning with storage, whether you have cardamom pods or you prefer your cardamom grounded, depends on how long you will be able to keep your spice stored. For pods, a cool dry area is ideal, and they can be stored for much longer than ground cardamom, since it loses its potency quicker. The key is using airtight containers to make flavors last as long as possible. Likewise, differences arise between the uses of cardamom pods, cardamom seeds, and ground cardamom.
Using Cardamom Pods
Cooking with the entire cardamom pods grants you the most amount of flavor. Toast the pods for a couple minutes on a skillet until their aroma fills the room and then remove the seeds with a mortar and pestle. Keep the pods for future use, especially in coffee or tea for enhanced flavor. For example, in the Middle East, it is a common practice to offer guests coffee with cardamom as a symbol of hospitality and comfort. If you are making a stew, purée, soup, or curry dish, submerging a pod into the pot until it dissolves will add a touch of extra flavor.
Using Cardamom Seeds
The seeds from the pods of cardamom can also be added to foods with consistencies such as mentioned above and, likewise, can be tossed into the soup or stew pots while cooking. For harder foods, though, such as baked goods, after mashing the pods until the seeds bust out, throw them directly into the dessert mix. The seeds are commonly used to add a strong flavor to breads or baked desserts. You will be able to see the seeds once these baked items are ready to eat.
Using Cardamom Grounded
For dishes that call for cardamom grounded, simply adding a prepared cardamom powder will suffice. This is especially the case when it comes to baked desserts or breads. Many international grocery stores, such as farmers markets, sell cardamom powder for a lower price than at traditional grocers. If you are starting with a pod, though, or only have cardamom seeds available, grinding up the seeds or the pod as well as the seeds is quite simple to get a grounded spice. Either a coffee grinder or a pestle and mortar work just fine to get this job done.
Health Benefits of Cardamom
Believe it or not, organic cardamom contains medicinal value in a number of ways, adding to its incredible value of versatility. Cardamom actually helped to limit the bad breath of the Ancient Egyptians, and it serves as the original Pepto Bismol in stomach digestion aid in Indian traditions. Needless to say, cardamom still can act as a breath enhancer and makeshift toothpaste, for that matter. For those with high blood pressure, cardamom powder has been known to help bring blood pressure levels back to the normal range due to its significant amount of antioxidants as well as its diuretic effect, which removes necessary water and salt from your body through urine. The vast antioxidant presence limits inflammation in the body, which serves to help in the fight against chronic disease. Fortunately, the spice may also help in reducing the chances of cancer with the ability to attack tumors when ingested. As research continues, more health benefits are likely to be proved, and since cardamom is so widely available throughout the world, it is quite easy to begin using. Not to mention, the taste is unlike anything else.
Cardamom serves as a spice that is worth trying and will most definitely make your meals pop out in a way you could not even imagine. More importantly, cardamom is beneficial to intake, especially if you frequently suffer from cases of morning breath or high blood pressure. It may seem expensive to buy, but in reality, when cooking with cardamom, dishes require very little amounts. Thus, if stored properly, cardamom can last up to six months after you purchase and open it. Finally, the taste of cardamom can not be emphasized enough, so the only way to see for yourself is if you stop reading and go pick up some because you will not regret it.