Cardamom Substitute: Frugal Cook Dealing With Cardamom Deficiency Crisis

Ever since I was a child, cookery was my passion.

First, I just loved eating the finest dishes; then I learned how to make them with some help from my mother, grandmother, and aunts. At last, when I was about seventeen years old, I mastered the skill, and I was ready to cook anything I liked. 🙂

However, during my childhood and years of cooking practice, my family wasn’t the wealthiest one on the block. To be honest, we were happy, loving and community oriented but impecunious. We were never hungry, because we worked hard and we cooked for the whole family, and sharing was our main value.

For that reason, I learned how to be frugal and substitute pricey ingredients for the affordable ones. As my grandma used to say: “The presence of any fancy spice can be compensated with a lot of love and a little bit of creativity.” As you can guess, turmeric, saffron or cardamom were not frequent guests in my family’s spice cabinet.

Not long ago, my dear friend almost had a panic attack when she realized she doesn’t have cardamom in her kitchen, while she was supposed to make a dinner for a famous chef and food critic. I came to the rescue. With a few simple tricks my grandma taught me, I masked the absence of cardamom. No one ever noticed the difference.

That is why I decided to write a simple guide that will help any passionate cook in cardamom deficiency crisis.

Enjoy!

What is cardamom and where to use it?

Not everyone can afford cardamom, and this shouldn’t surprise you. It is the world's third-most expensive spice, right after vanilla and saffron. Fortunately, it has an intensely aromatic fragrance, so small quantities will be sufficient for any dish you want to make. This unique spice is made from the seed pods of several plants in the ginger family.

In culinary, you will come across two types of cardamom – black and green.

Both kinds are used as flavorings and cooking spices in different foods and drinks, but they can also be used as a medicine. The most important difference between black and green cardamom is their taste. While green cardamom has a sweet floral aroma with a touch of eucalyptus, black cardamom offers a pungent smoky flavor with a slightly minty aroma.

I remember I tried cardamom for the first time when I was maybe ten years old. Dad’s colleague took us to a new-opened Indian restaurant for some kind of celebration. The taste was so distinctive that I instantly fell in love with it. I made my mother ask the waiter for the recipe, and they were kind enough to share it.

Asian cuisine often uses cardamom, especially in Indian dishes, such as basmati rice and various sorts of curries. However, you can come across this spice in Middle Eastern recipes, especially desserts but also traditional Scandinavian baking treats.

Cardamom and Delicious Recipes

Apple or pumpkin pies, banana bread, cinnamon rolls, puddings, casseroles, spice cakes or muffins – all of these sweet delicacies can benefit from cardamom.

On the other hand, if you are aiming to spice up your main course or a salty snack, combining turkey, goose, sausage, salmon, rice, chickpea and various vegetables with cardamom is always a good idea.

One of my favorite hot beverages in late autumn and early winter days is undoubtedly mulled wine with an unexpected hint of cardamom. Every hot drink, from hot cider, eggnog, herbal tea to coffee will benefit from it if you are brave enough to experiment.

If you are looking for a place to start, I would recommend you to take a look at this collection of cardamom related recipes.

9 Cardamom Substitutes that Can Save Your Meal

Here comes the exciting part.

Yes, cardamom can be replaced, and no, even the skilled experts won’t notice the difference if you things correctly.

Don’t forget to stay open-minded and ready to try out new combinations, even if they seem ridiculous. Trust me, I’ve learned them from my grandmother, who picked them up from her mother, which means they’ve worked for decades. 

However, due to taste difference between black and green cardamom, you have to make sure you are using the right combination because in each case, your goal is essentially different.

1. Ginger and Cinnamon

Substitutes: Black Cardamom

How does it work?

  • Mix equal parts of cinnamon and dried ginger. That is all you have to do, to get a perfect black cardamom substitute. Ginger brings the earthy elements and a tart bite to the mix, while cinnamon takes care of the sweetness. However, don’t forget that you’ll need to use a smaller amount of this spice combination than you would normally use cardamom. Both ginger and cinnamon have strong, distinctive aromas, which means less is more in this case.

2. Nutmeg and Cinnamon

Substitutes: Green Cardamom

How does it work?

  • Cinnamon adds a warm taste to this spice combination, while nutmeg provides a necessary sweet side which is characteristic for green cardamom. For this reason, nutmeg and cinnamon can be used as an adequate cardamom substitute in sweet but also savory dishes. It works the best in different stews and curries.

3. Allspice

Substitutes: Both

How does it work?

  • Allspice or myrtle pepper is made of dried, ground seeds of the Pimenta dioica tree from southern Mexico and Central America. It is incredibly versatile due to its flavor profile that matches the needs of both sweet and savory dishes. It won’t have precisely the same taste as cardamom, but it can be a good substitute when you need a quick solution. You should use it in the same amount as you would use cardamom.

4. Cumin

Substitutes: Black Cardamom

How does it work?

5. Cloves

Substitutes: Both

How does it work?

6. Nutmeg, Coriander, and Allspice

Substitutes: Black Cardamom

How does it work?

  • If you are ready to get creative, blend equal parts of nutmeg, coriander, and allspice. This spices combination will mimic the flavor and the scent of black cardamom. However, be aware that these three spices are quite potent, which means they can overpower your dish if you use too much of them. The total volume of used spice combination should be equal to the total recommended quantity of black cardamom in the recipe.

7. Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Clove, and Allspice

Substitutes: Green Cardamom

How does it work?

  • Here’s another combination that might sound freaky at first, but works very well as green cardamom substitute that can be used for various sweet dishes. If you want to mimic green cardamom aroma, you should mix four parts of nutmeg with one part of each cinnamon, allspice, and clove to get the best results.

8. Coriander

Substitutes: Both

How does it work?

  • It might seem odd that single spice can substitute both back and green cardamom flavor, but it is true. There is a subtle taste difference between whole and ground coriander which makes this possible. Whole coriander seeds have sweet, floral aroma. However, when you grind them, they release the nutty and earthy aroma. So, make sure to check which kind of cardamom your recipe is calling for, to know whether you should use whole seeds or ground.

9. Black Cardamom

Substitutes: Green Cardamom

How does it work?

  • Once you start exploring cardamom related recipes, you will notice that majority of them require green cardamom which is both expensive and rarely available. This might sound like a paradox, due to apparent flavor and aroma difference, but you can use black cardamom instead of the green one. Black cardamom is significantly more affordable, and it works excellent with savory dishes. However, my recommendation is to avoid using it in sweet dishes, because its earthy, aromatic element can be too aggressive.

Conclusion

I gave you nine different options that can replace green or black cardamom or even both of them. Some of these substitutes are more fitting than the others, but this depends on your goal. 

Cardamom offers a whole spectrum of aromas, but you have to know what you are aiming for, so you could choose your substitute accordingly. 

The best advice I can give you is following: don’t be afraid to experiment. Cookery is just like art; you have to explore different approaches to find the best path.

Do your best to stay true to my grandmother’s words, and you will never have to worry about making a mistake! 😉

Barbara Whitney
 

For the last 20 years, I’ve been cooking, preparing, researching, and gathering recipes, tools, and knowledge about food and the way we prepare it. Raising two lively boys and spoiling one great husband later, it’s safe to say that I’ve optimized my kitchen to deliver the best possible meal, no matter the occasion.

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