Cardamom-Substitutes

Easy Cardamom Substitutes for Your Basmati Rice or Spiced Chai Tea

Used in both savory and sweet dishes, cardamom is commonly found in Indian, Arabic, Middle Eastern and Swedish cuisines and ranks as one of the most expensive spices in the world. Cardamom is also common in hot drinks such as spiced chai teas and Turkish coffees.

Like other spices, cardamom does have a distinctive aroma and flavors, but if you have run out of cardamom, there are a few other options you can add to your dish from a well-stocked spice cabinet. Read on to learn more about cardamom and the easiest ways to replace cardamom in your recipe.

Cardamom can add flavor to curries, pilaus, breads, meatloaves, hamburgers, fish and meat marinades, pickles, soups and baked goods such as apple pies, sweet rice dishes, chocolate cakes, cookies and more.

Cardamom is a spice that comes from pods of various plants within the Zingiberaceae family, the same family to which ginger and turmeric belong. Native to India, these plants also grow in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bhutan and Central America.

The pods of cardamom are shaped like a spindle and can vary in size and color depending on what species of plant they come from. These pods contain between eight and 16 small black seeds; both the pods and seeds of cardamom are used in cooking. Just before pods are fully ripened, they are handpicked from the plants and dried before being packaged or sent for grinding. The color of dried pods can vary from brown, when they have been oven dried, to green when they have been sun-dried.

There are two main types of cardamom, green cardamom and black cardamom, but it is the green or Elettaria cardamomom which is known as ‘true’ cardamom, and this is the type usually found in grocery stores.

Green cardamom with its pungent aroma and strong, sweet and pungent flavor with warming hints of camphor, eucalyptus and lemon tends to be used most in Middle Eastern and Nordic recipes. Black cardamom (Amomum subulatum) has these flavors as well as smoky and cooling menthol notes.

Thai cardamom belongs to the same family as green cardamom, but Thai cardamom looks more like garbanzo beans and it is dried with wood fires straight after harvest. Thai cardamom is common in Traditional Chinese Medicine and when used in cooking, this has less hints of camphor and more floral and lemony flavors. It is also less pungent smelling.

Asian recipes usually specify which type of cardamom should be used, although the black is often used for more savory dishes with its smoky flavor. In Southern India, black cardamom can also be used in sweeter dishes.

There is also a white cardamom, which has been bleached. Grown in tropical areas such as Malaysia, this type of cardamom has less flavor than green or black cardamom.

Whole and Ground Cardamom

Whole cardamom pods are often used in curries and for basmati rice, while ground cardamom is common in dessert recipes. Once whole cardamom is ground, it starts to lose its flavor quite quickly so is only good to store for a few months or so. You will probably find that you need to add more ground cardamom than the recipe asks for as it has lost some of its flavor.

If possible, buy whole pods which you can grind in a grinder or with a pestle and mortar. You may want to roast them before grinding to release the maximum flavor. You can also just add the whole pods to the pan and then remove them all before the dish is served - biting into a cardamom pod is never the best taste experience!

Six cardamom pods will equal around one teaspoon of ground cardamom.

Both whole and ground cardamom should be stored in a jar or other airtight container away from any heat or light.

Health Benefits of Cardamom

Cardamom has been used in traditional medicine and is still used in Traditional Chine Medicine and Ayurvedic Medicine today. The oil from cardamom is known to have anti-microbial activity and is able to kill some bacteria and fungi, although cardamom essential oils should not be consumed.

Early studies have shown that cardamom may be promising for heart health, with animal studies showing that cardamom could improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels. It may also be helpful for liver disorders, and in fact, cardamom is used in Ayurvedic medicine for detoxification.

Cardamom has also shown some positive effects in individuals who have metabolic syndrome – conditions that can lead to type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

 Cardamom is also traditionally used to freshen breath, and it may also be able to fight against the bacteria that can cause oral infections, cavities or gum disease. It is also linked with digestive health and early studies show that it may help prevent stomach ulcers.

Substituting Cardamom in Recipes

As with many spices, the distinctive flavor of cardamom can be difficult to replicate, which is why combinations can make better substitutes than just single spices – depending of course on the recipe.

The substitutions below are predominantly based on green cardamom substitutions. Depending on the dish, you may be able to replace greed cardamom with black or white cardamom, but the flavors are different.

1. Cloves and Cinnamon

Suitable for replacing cardamom in curries, stews and other meat and fish recipes, the intensity of cloves mixed with the woody and sweet flavor of cinnamon, gives a good replica on many of the flavors found in cardamom.

If the recipe needs a teaspoon of cardamom, then replace it with a quarter teaspoon of ground cloves and a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon. After tasting, you can add more if necessary. You should never need more than the equivalent amount of cardamom that the recipe asks for.

Predominantly grown in Indonesia and Tanzania, cloves are the dried buds of flowers that grow on a myrtle tree. In Indonesia, where cloves are native to, parents would plant a clove tree when a baby was born and during the Chinese Han period, cloves were known as ‘chicken-tongue spice’. Cloves eventually became an important spice in European trading and today are still a key ingredient in Asian and Sri Lankan spice blends.

2. Nutmeg and Cinnamon

Although cinnamon alone can be used as a cardamom replacement to add some heat to the food, the addition of nutmeg with its fruit flavors offers more opportunity to acquire some of the spicy, sweet and slightly citrusy cardamom flavors in the dish. In the US, we purchase over 10.5 million ounces of cinnamon every year, and this, along with seasoned salt and chili powder are the most common seasonings found in our homes.

It is said that cinnamon indirectly led to the discovery of America, as explorers in the fifteenth century were exploring new lands to find cinnamon as well as other spices and riches!

To substitute nutmeg and cinnamon for cardamom, mix equal quantities of cinnamon and nutmeg together. Although you can use the same amount of this blend as you would of cardamom, you may want to just add half; taste, and add more if necessary.

This substitution is best in sweeter recipes and baked goods although it may be suitable in some curries or stews.

3. Allspice and Peppercorns

Sourced from the Pimenta dioica tree, allspice can be used on its own in curries, stews and meat dishes, or you can add it with an equal amount of ground peppercorns for some sharpness.

Like cardamom, allspice is complexly flavored, with notes of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. It is also fruity and spicy with citrus hints, which although still very different in flavor to cardamom, means that it can add some of the necessary flavors to the dish.

Use half the amount of allspice or allspice/peppercorn blend to cardamom as it is a strong spice/blend that can easily overpower the dish.


4. Cinnamon and Ginger

As ginger comes from the same plant species as cardamom, it can be used in place of cardamom in savory dishes such as those with rice and meats. The ginger offers sweetness and bite, while the cinnamon gives some of the flavors and aroma or cardamom.

When using ginger as a substitute, ground ginger is better than fresh, and you will need to mix an equal amount of ground ginger with the cinnamon. You may want to just add half the amount of the blend as you would of cardamom as both ginger and cinnamon have strong flavors. It is easy to add more if needed.

5. Nutmeg, Ground Coriander and Peppercorns

This spice blend is much more suitable for using in savory dishes than some of the others we have mentioned so far. To make this blend, just add equal amounts of nutmeg, ground coriander powder and ground peppercorns together and then add the same amount to the recipe as you would of cardamom.

Peppercorns are available in a variety of colors, but it is black pepper which is the bestselling spice in America. Black peppercorns are actually green peppercorns grown in Brazil, Indonesia, India or Vietnam, and when these green peppercorns are picked, they are either freeze-dried or dehydrated to sell as green peppercorns or left to dry in the sun until they turn into black peppercorns.

Peppercorns have always been an important spice and in the times of the Ancient Greeks and Romans pepper was used as currency and back in 408 AD, when Visigoths attacked Rome, 3,000 pounds of pepper were demanded from Rome as part of the ransom!

6. Other Cardamom Substitutes

For sweet dishes, try using apple pie spice, this can also be useful for sprinkling over desserts that need a sprinkling of green cardamom powder. If you don’t have any apple pie spice to hand, then you can mix up half a teaspoon of cinnamon with an eighth of a teaspoon of ground allspice and an eighth of a teaspoon of ground nutmeg.

For savory dishes, cumin can be used in place of cardamom and indeed in some cuisines, cumin is often used as a cardamom replacement. You can also sprinkle ground cumin over savory dishes before serving as you would do with ground cardamom.

Final Verdict

If your recipe needs cardamom and you have run out, there are a number of options available, depending on whether your recipe is sweet or savory.

Although no spice has the unique aroma and flavor of cardamom, using a blend of common spices can help replicate some of the aromas and flavor notes that the cardamom would have otherwise brought to your recipe.

As with any substitutes, less is often better, so try adding just half the quantity of the substitute at first and then add extra until you achieve the flavor profile that you want.

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