The Allure of Cardamom

by Denise Reynolds
HAALo's Enchantress of Spices

Cardamom is such a treat for the senses. From the pop of opening its pod with a mortar and pestle to its elusive taste, it draws you into its ancient mystery. Originating in India and important in the spice trade for several thousand years, cardamom only grows in tropical rainforests above 3000 feet. It is an essential ingredient in South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Scandinavian cooking.


photo of grinding cardamom by Juhan Sonin

How to describe its multifaceted scent and taste to someone unfamiliar with it? It’s exotic and ancient like old wooden temples still flecked with gold leaf, like citrus and rose and vanilla, like ginger and pepper and cloves. It smells of curiosity, and sensuality, and fascination. It tastes like the earth it grows close to and like the beauty of its orchid-like flower. I imagine the mosaic-floored and cloth-draped spice bazaars of old India with cardamom’s enveloping fragrance penetrating through the aroma of other spices. The scent delights me, wants to be savored, and brings pleasure before it has even touched my taste buds.


photo of cardamom pods by Maddie Hagedorn


In addition to its use in both savory and sweet dishes, cardamom has several medicinal benefits recognized by both Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine. Like its cousin ginger, it's known primarily for enhancing the appetite, assisting with digestion and stomach complaints, and is anti-inflammatory. It is also used for oral health, kidney support, to temper depression, and as an aphrodisiac, among other remedies. In addition, it has a high concentration of limonene, a flavanoid with antioxidant benefits.

In cooking, cardamom can be used in its whole pod form, as seeds, or as ground seeds. When you pop open a pod with the side of a knife or a mortar and pestle, only keep the pods/seeds that are a dark brown and black. Those that have turned to a tan color have lost the complexity of flavor and will leave only the camphorous notes behind.

For ground cardamom, it’s best to grind your own seeds or buy small amounts of fragrant smelling ground cardamom as its volatile essential oils easily evaporate and oxidize when exposed to air and light. If you purchase or grind your own powder, avoid storing it in plastic bags as the essential oils will react with the plastic, losing flavor and causing the bag to break down.

To use cardamom in cooking you can search for lots of recipes that highlight the Queen of Spices, but how might you incorporate its regular use with more ease?

  • Sprinkle the powder on buttered toast by itself or with cinnamon.
  • Sprinkle it in your coffee or tea along with cinnamon. Since much of it will sink to the bottom, if you have a milk frother, you can steam up some dairy or almond milk for your hot beverage and sprinkle it on top. This way you will be greeted with the taste and aroma in every sip.
  • Try adding cardamom powder to fruit salad with a little fresh lime and honey if needed.
  • Eating the seeds with bits of dark chocolate is a wonderfully simple and intensely flavored treat.
  • The next time you make rice or quinoa, add the seeds of 7–10 pods for a nice change of pace.

I love to use the whole pods in my Indian cooking for unexpected bursts of intense flavor. American cooking tends to be rather homogenous with every bite of a dish tasting the same, and I find I prefer to be surprised and delighted by using whole spices. Enjoy the recipe below using whole cardamom pods and indulge in the sensual pleasure of this delightful spice. HAALo carries cardamom as well as several of the other spices—check out the “Available at HAALo” list for this recipe below.


photo of cardamom by Steven Jackson

Spiced Basmati Rice
(serves 4 as a side dish)

  • 2 Tbsps olive or coconut oil
  • 2 tspns cumin seeds
  • 1 large onion chopped
  • 1 clove garlic finely chopped
  • 1 ¼ cups basmati rice, rinsed and drained
  • 1 rounded tspn of coriander seeds roasted in a skillet until fragrant,
    then ground in mortar and pestle, OR 1 tspn ground coriander
  • ¼ tspn dry mustard
  • Dash of cayenne or to taste
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ¼ cup sultanas (golden raisins)
  • 8 cardamom pods, split
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • ¼ cup slivered almonds

Heat the oil and sauté the cumin seeds and onion on medium high until softened and starting to turn golden brown.

Turn heat to medium low, add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes without browning.

Add rice and 1 ¾ cups of water, coriander, mustard, cayenne, cinnamon stick, sultanas, cardamom pods, and turmeric. Cover and cook on low for 20 minutes.

Toast the almonds until lightly golden. Stir into the rice and serve.

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Available at HAALo
Cardamom pods
Cayenne powder
Cumin seeds
Coriander seeds (or optional ground coriander)
Cinnamon Stick
Mustard Powder (or optional mustard seeds for grinding)
Turmeric powder

Mortar and pestle

Glass storage jars


Denise-Reynolds-HAALo-sqDenise Reynolds, HAALo's Enchantress of Spices, is a culinary sensualist and founder of The Sensual Feast. She consults and teaches cooking workshops offering the opportunity to delight in the preparation, flavor, and deep nourishment of food as a gateway to pleasure and sensuality. Learn to experience the kitchen as sacred space and how, as we play in the kitchen, we have the opportunity to inspire our lives again and again with every meal.

Denise's next class is "Cheesemaking in the Raw" on July 23. Check out her Facebook page The Sensual Feast for event details and watch this video for a little taste of her classes.

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