Cardamom is too often relegated to the corner of the spice rack, somewhere beyond the cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger when it comes to baking. Cardamom is every bit as interesting as those other spices often reminding the palate of a combination of all three. A member of the Zingiberaceae or ginger family, cardamom is the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron. Cardamom offers a spicy, sweet aroma with astringent notes and is native to the forests of Southern India and Sri Lanka. According to legend, Cleopatra used cardamom smoke to scent her palace before a visit by Mark Anthony.  It comes in two genera: Elettaria cardamomum (green cardamom) and Amomum cardamomum (black, brown, red and nepal cardamom).

Accounts differ on how cardamom made it into baker's spice racks but some say that colonialists planted it from wild plants in India 200 years ago. Others say it was brought to Scandinavia by Vikings and eventually integrated into their baking culture. Today, most cardamom is used in Arabic countries as a flavoring for coffee.

Cardamom Pods

Cardamom Varieties

Green Cardamom

Also known as true cardamom, green cardamom is picked while the pods are still green and then sun dried. Green cardamom is often harder to find and more expensive because the green pod still surrounds it's seeds, enabling the flavors and aromas to stay intact for a longer period of time. Green cardamom is preferred for baking and is the highest quality cardamom. 10 pods equals 1½ teaspoons of ground cardamom.

Cardamom Seeds

These are small black seeds contained in the pod and ground into powder. Green cardamom keeps it's flavor longer but cardamom powder is often used for ease of use in the kitchen.

Black Cardamom

This type of cardamom is from a different genera than green cardamom and the flavor is slightly different; more earhy, less sweet and not recommended for baking. Black cardamom is more suitable for spicy savory dishes.

White Cardamom

This cardamom has been bleached so it's ground powder doesn't discolor baked items. The bleaching process causes flavors to be diminished so it's recommended that white cardamom is avoided unless the color of your desserts is of the utmost concern.

When baking, always use green cardamom or cardamom powder. This spice is great for tying together the flavor properties of other spices such as ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Use it to give a subtle spicy bite to carrot cake, sweetbreads, pecan pie, or pumpkin pie. Dust it over sugar cookies or use it in almost any other baked item where you'd like to introduce a little mystery and intrigue. The more you use cardamom, the more it will work it's way to the front of your spice rack.

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