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Demystifying Cardamom

By Cook's Illustrated Published January 2012

Some spice shops carry three different kinds of cardamom pods: white, green, and black. How do they differ?

The delicate complexity of cardamom makes it a popular spice in several cuisines, most notably Middle Eastern, Indian, and Scandinavian. Green cardamom is the most commonly found variety in the United States, and white cardamom is simply green cardamom that has been bleached so as not to discolor light-colored baked goods and other foods. Black cardamom (also called large cardamom) is not true cardamom but a relative.

To test for flavor differences, we removed the seeds from the inedible green, white, and black cardamom pods, ground the seeds in a coffee grinder, and used the spice to flavor sugar cookies. We also crushed all three kinds of pods and steeped them in the rice cooking water for separate batches of our Chicken Biryani.

All three forms of cardamom boasted similar flavors—pine-y, sweet, and floral, with a peppery, warm finish—but intensity levels varied. In both applications, the green cardamom was the most vibrant and balanced. Not surprisingly, the flavor of the bleached pods paled in comparison to the green, and—since they cost almost twice as much—we won’t purchase them again. Black cardamom offered hints of eucalyptus, and as it is generally dried over fire, it boasted smoky nuances that we appreciated in savory biryani but not in cookies. For an all-purpose choice, we’ll be going green when it comes to cardamom.

BLACK:

Smoky

GREEN:

All-Purpose

WHITE:

Bland