Cardamom is a member of the ginger family. A shrub native to Asia, it grows long, pointed leaves off a large stem, similar to tulips or iris. Its tropical flower makes way for plump seed pods that contain the pungent, oil-rich cardamom seeds. The pods are picked by hand when green, and dried in the sun. They’re sold green, which are not processed beyond natural drying, and white, which are treated with sulfur dioxide to mute the flavors.
Black cardamom has a completely different smoky, peppery quality because it’s dried over open, smoky flames. It is preferred for heavier, spicier dishes than the green or white pods. That said, there’s no need to run to the store for black if all you’ve got is green.
Cardamom is popular in India, where it’s a common ingredient in curries and rice dishes. Scandinavian and Bavarian chefs know cardamom well and take advantage of its sweet overtones in fruits, breads, and pastries. It’s also a key ingredient in strong, cloyingly sweet Turkish coffee.
Ground cardamom is widely available, and white pods can be found in better markets. Green and black may take a little more time to track down. Try Indian or Middle Eastern markets, or online (savoryspiceshop.com).
To grind cardamom pods, pinch them open and remove the black inner seeds. Use a mortar to grind small amounts, or a coffee grinder to pulverize bigger batches. Once whole spices are ground, they begin to lose their flavor, so it’s always better to by them whole and grind them fresh, as you need them.
(FYI … If you want to please me, make something with cardamom. It’s my all-time favorite spice.)