Cardamom is a spice derived from the seedpods of a bush native to tropical Asian regions. It is a member of the ginger family and bears a faint lemon taste with eucalyptus overtones. While saffron remains the most expensive spice, cardamom is second (with vanilla being the third).

Favored in many Middle Eastern and Indian recipes and an essential part of curries and pilaus, cardamom is included in dishes ranging from savory to sweet. In Scandinavia, the seeds are frequently included in breads and desserts. Arabic countries remain the largest market where the spice is prized for use in coffee.


The finest species are of the Elettaria cardamomum genus and are produced in India. These include the green pods with the finest aroma and flavor. Depending on type and size, the pods will contain between two and sixteen seeds.

Generally, whole pods are of Indian origin while loose seeds (called “decorticated” cardamom) or ground spice is from Guatemala.

Less expensive products are generally inferior in flavor.

The oil of cardamom seeds is known to inhibit bacterial growth. Small quantities are included in some foods as a preservative.

Buying Tips

Pods (about the size of blueberries), which protect the seeds, are best. They should be green or black (larger pods), but some vendors bleach the husk, which causes a flavor reduction.

Seeds are also sold loose or in ground form. These will not retain flavor and should be used quickly.

Storage Tips

Store pods in an airtight container for about two months. Discard individual pods that show signs of mold.

Usage Tips

  • The pod can be lightly crushed and cooked with seeds inside. Discard the hull before serving.
  • The seeds from five pods, when ground, will produce about one-quarter teaspoon.
  • When using in coffee, add a small amount to the basket before brewing.
  • Ground cardamom seeds are an excellent addition to pies, pastries, and custards.
  • Add unroasted split or whole seeds to lentils.
  • Combine seeds can with other whole spices and roast before adding to a dish.

Substitution Tips

When cardamom is not available, use a blend of nutmeg and cinnamon.