Spices 101: What is Cardamom?
Recently a ton of supermarkets closed down in the northeast, especially here on Long Island, resulting from their blanket corporation of A&P going out of business. It was really sad, considering how many people lost their jobs, and to see some old standbys like Waldbaums and Path-Mark close up shop, never to be seen again. Well, sometimes the best way to move past a tragedy is by finding any good you can in it. In this case, legendary clearance prices on all items. I hate to sound like classic consumerist American, but we were able to find some insane deals on food in the last few days when items were being discounted 70%, 80%, and even 95% off.
We took that opportunity to splurge on some cardamom pods, a staple curry ingredient which normally runs for, ohhhh, $15 a bottle. So yeah. Shit’s expensive.
Appearance: Small, green pods
Scent: Fruity, flowery, zesty
Taste: Sweet, zesty, fresh
Foods: Indian, Nordic European
Cardamom is primarily an Indian thing. They use it in curries all the time, turn it into drinks and teas, and use it as herbal medicine. It’s basically just the vessel the plant stores its seeds in, similarly to peas. Each pod has a bunch of little black seeds inside, and that’s what you’re really after. The pod itself has a light aroma, but each of the seeds has a ton of flavor and fragrance to it. You only need a few pod’s worth to flavor an entire dish.
The pods themselves aren’t entirely worthless. I encourage you to throw them into dishes as well during cooking since they do grant a little extra flavor, even if they’re not the star attraction. One thing I would like to point out since we had trouble finding the actual answer to, is yes you can eat cardamom pods. It is edible, and it won’t hurt you to eat it. Would you? Should you? Probably not. They’re pretty rigid and biting into one would be akin to biting into a peanut shell; it won’t hurt you but it’s not very palatable. I bring this up because every freaking curry recipe I come across explicitly states “Toss the pods into the curry, but make sure to remove them before serving.” This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but consider this:
In case you haven’t noticed, curry is this big gloopy mix of like 7,000 different foods. Do you really think you’re gonna be able to fish out a couple of small 1/2″ pieces of cardamom pod? Nah yeah, didn’t think so. If you see one in your own plate, or bite into one, just move it to the side. The thing to take away from this though is that you don’t need to worry about accidentally ingesting one. They’re not poison.
Also for what it’s worth, the same goes with bay leaves. They’re edible too, just not very tasty when bitten into.
Cardamom seeds meanwhile are delicious. They have this beautiful, almost fruity scent to them and give a zesty flavor to food cooked with them. They’re powerful too; as mentioned you only need a few pod’s worth to flavor your dish. To get them out, all you need to do is hold them over whatever mixture they’re going into, and crush the pods open with your fingers. Spill the seeds out, and toss the pod in with them, and voila.
Interestingly enough cardamom does see a fair amount of usage in European desserts or baked goods, especially in Nordic countries. Different cakes and breads from Sweden and Norway and the like feature cardamom in them. Additionally, many classic recipes for wassail (mulled Christmas cider) call for cardamom as well.
Because this is the Poor Couple’s Food Guide, we can’t exactly recommend you run out and buy some. It’s seriously one of the most expensive spices out there, even if you find a big bag of it at an Indian grocer. That’s why we always list it as optional in our recipes, since it’s luxurious as hell, and not everyone has supermarkets closing around them selling food at a fraction of its normal price. It does add a nice flavor, but most of the time you can get by without it. If you absolutely DO feel the need to buy some, check ethnic markets for it, since they tend to have it cheapest.