Ask Peter: Cardamom
There have been a few recipes using cardamom pods in Bite recently – one being your delicious vattalapam, the other Jo’s rogan josh. I only had ground cardamom in the cupboard and used this for the rogan josh. It seemed alright to me but I would like to know if there is a taste difference between ground and whole. Are they interchangeable in recipes? When I finally did get to an Asian grocer to buy some cardamom pods I was even more confused because they also had black cardamom and cardamom seeds.
Green cardamom is one of the great spices of the world - I rate it almost as my favourite spice alongside star anise and cumin. It’s also the third most expensive spice in the world - behind saffron and vanilla, both of which it works with really well. Cardamom has a delicious perfumed aroma; it lends itself to both savoury and sweet dishes, and is a wonderful accompaniment to coffee. Next time you’re making espresso coffee at home add a decent pinch to the coffee grinds and brew as usual. It may even transport you to Kashmir as it does me.
Black cardamom is a cousin of the green variety and both are related to ginger. However, they are quite different, with the black variety being much larger and almost hairy in appearance, with a smoky flavour and aroma. After these are harvested, when the pods are actually pinkish, they are dried over charcoal to preserve them — hence the smokiness. Green pods are simply left to dry in the sun — they’re much smaller and don’t need to be heated to dry out.
How to use cardamom
Black cardamom is best used in savoury dishes, although I did make a panna cotta once with a subtle hint of the black alongside a good dose of ginger and vanilla and it worked a treat. Next time you’re making a rich meaty stew, throw in one or two of these pods and you’ll appreciate the addition. One thing to bear in mind is that people unfamiliar with them may think a blow-fly has fallen into their meal if they come across it, as they did at one of my restaurants once. Seriously! I had to take them a whole pod to convince them that we hadn’t left the window open
As with all spices, both are at their best when toasted and ground as close to using them as possible. Commercially produced cardamom powder is fine if you’re going to use it quickly, but the volatile oils (that give it its aroma and flavour) dissipate quite quickly after it’s ground. Many ground cardamoms will be a mixture of husk and seeds, but it’s really just the seeds that give off the flavour so you might want to do that yourself. The reality is you’re unlikely to use a lot of cardamom over the next 12 months, so you’d be best to buy whole pods and then grind them yourself - you’ll have much better results.
You can crush the pods using a mortar and pestle and discard the papery green husks then add the black seeds to whatever it is you’re cooking. Or you can grind them whole (the green ones only — the black could break your grinder) and add to a custard, or mix with dry ingredients before straining through a sieve. However, In India, Nepal and Burma you’ll always get whole crushed pods in your curry or stew which you can easily identify, so in reality you needn’t be too fussed about sieving them depending on who you’re cooking for.
To make biscuits flavoured with green cardamom, blitz the pods finely in a spice grinder and sieve with the flour and other dry ingredients. For an aromatic syrup to drizzle over stonefruit, bring to a gentle boil a cup of caster sugar and a cup of water. Add 3 crushed cardamom pods, a vanilla bean split in half and the peel (no pith) of half a lemon. Turn to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes then add 2 tablespoons lemon juice and leave to cool. Strain it as you serve it, and store in a jar in the fridge.
So... are the different cardamoms interchangeable?
Not really. Use green in sweet or savoury dishes, and keep black just for savoury. Buy whole and crush yourself and avoid pre-ground versions if you can. Use sparingly as they’re both fairly powerful, but do begin playing with them in your favourite dishes as they are fantastic spices and fairly versatile.
In our Ask Peter series, executive chef Peter Gordon answers your curly culinary questions. If you're stumped over something food-related, send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org and keep checking in for answers. You can read more on Peter on his website, have a read of his Ask Peter articles or check out his recipes on our site.