Cardamom: Queen of the spices

I Love Cardamom

In addition to being maybe the least well-known spice, it has the happy distinction of being my unforgettable and exotic. I also have good taste. Cardamom is the third most expensive spice, right behind saffron and vanilla.

I’ve loved cardamom ever since I had an apfelstrudel. Yeah, the butter and the apples and the crispy crunch of perfect strudel dough, but beneath it, all was the yet-to-be-identified flavor of ancientness. It was the cardamom.

Cardamom grows as ginger and turmeric grow, a rhizome root from another plant. The shoots reach 10–12 feet into the air, but the business is near the ground. Small white and purple flowers produce the fruit which is the cardamom pod. I’ve read than the seeds from the fresh fruit are much more powerful than the dried seeds.

Flavor Profiles

Flavor is tricky to explain. Explain what blue looks like to someone who doesn’t see it. Indian cardamom has a sweetness which conceals a musty, piney, lemony aroma. Sri Lanka also produces a quality cardamom. As with many foods, imitations and poor substitutes are in the market. If you didn’t know (and now you do) cardamom from Guatemala is inferior in flavor and half the price. For that, you get a camphor element which I find off-putting.

Cardamom once traveled by caravans for two years through desserts, on rivers, over mountains to China. Traders exchanged cardamom, cinnamon and other spices for their wants and needs and returned to India. The Chinese used what they wanted and then to parts east with the rest.

Cardamom is, of course, popular in Arab cuisine and coffee, where it may be ground with the coffee beans, added as seeds, or the whole pods steeped with the coffee. Cardamom pairs very nicely with turmeric and those two alone make up the two most prominent ingredients in curry powder. It also pairs well with cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron and mixes well in chicken and pork dishes, sweets such as streudel, cinnamon rolls or waffles. The connection with those last three is a degree of caramelized sugar. If you are a caramel making person, add some at the end of your caramel making. Trust me on this.

What To Look For

The best cardamom pods are blemish free, green, and tightly closed. The open as three leaves to reveal from 8 to 20 small black seeds. There are about 24 grades of cardamom and the best pods are about 8mm in diameter. Interestingly, the grades are made on appearance and size only, never the seeds inside.

Cardamom pods can be white, but they are previously green pods which have been bleached with sulfur dioxide to conceal the fading green from a too old pod. Black cardamom isn’t really cardamom and hasn’t the refinement of proper cardamom. Make no mistake, proper cardamom has an elegance but packs a punch.

Cardamom, when found in a grocery store, will almost always be sold ground. Getting it is good, getting it in a pod is best. Once ground, the volatile flavors of cardamom dissipate rapidly. If that is all you can get, use more for any recipe since the delicate flavor is likely less than it could be. If you find them whole, smashing the seeds in a mortar and pestle is best. The bottom of a clean sauté pan or the back of a knife will work just fine. Seeds from a good quality pod will be a bit sticky. In India, the seeds are used as breath fresheners.

Not Just For Dessert

The cardamom pod offers other uses including a reduction in stomach pain and, it is said, the reduce flatulence. You are liking the caramel idea a lot more, aren’t you? Other uses may help with cancer, reduce cardiovascular issues, improve blood circulation and help manage UTI.

Cardamom will go very nicely in your Easter carrot cake. Add it to cinnamon rolls, mix your own curry powder, add it to tea, waffles from my friend Laura at Daily Improvisation, caramel sauce or, of course, nearly all Indian desserts.

Here’s that cinnamon roll recipe linked above in case you just can’t wait.

Cinnamon Rolls-Best Ever Says I

Prep Time 1 hour

Cook Time 20 minutes

Dough proofing 2 hours

Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes

Servings 8

Author Dann Reid


Cinnamon Roll Dough

  • 85 g Room temperature unsalted butter
  • 72 g White sugar
  • 8 g Salt
  • 2 each Eggs, room temperature
  • 454 g All Purpose flour
  • 8 g Instant yeast
  • 170–203 g Buttermilk, room temperature


  • 113 g Butter
  • 113 g Light brown sugar
  • 1 T Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1/8 t Cardamom, ground
  • 1/4 t Salt


  • 1 C 10 X sugar
  • 1–2 T Boiling water


Mix the dough

  1. Cut the butter into small pieces. Add butter, flour, salt, sugar and yeast to stand mixer bowl with the paddle attachment.
  1. Start the mixer on slow to allow butter to work into flour. Add the eggs and mix to incorporate. Add buttermilk in thirds. You’ll want a dough that starts to clean the sides of the bowl, but is okay if it sticks.
  2. Mix on medium speed to about 80 degrees F. Feel the outside of the bowl. If it’s a bit cool to your hand, that’s good. Use a bowl scraper and remove the dough to a buttered bowl.
  3. Roll the dough in the buttered bowl, cover the bowl with plastic and place in a not too warm place to ferment. On the oven is too warm.
  4. Allow to double. Remove the dough to a floured table, roll into a rectangle, about 12” x 16”, and add your filling.

Mix the filling

  1. Mix the filling in the same bowl as you used to mix the dough. Mix to combined. Feel free to adjust the sugars as you prefer, keeping the total amount of sugar at ¾ of a cup. More or less cinnamon and if you are daring, a pinch of ground cardamom.
  2. Spread the sugar mixture on the dough which should be lengthwise in front of you and about 6 inches from the edge of your table. Spread the mix from the center to the edges, getting almost all the way to the top and both sides. Leave about 1 inch of dough in front of you plain.
  1. Begin with the edge furthest from you and gently roll the dough onto itself as you begin to form the cinnamon roll log. Speed matters a wee bit. The longer it takes to fill, roll-up, and cut the rolls, the longer the yeast is working. So, don’t be hasty, but work diligently. If you make a tear in the dough, that will disappear when the log is complete.
  1. Roll the finished log onto it seam, and with a dough blade or knife, cut the log in half then each half in half again and then each piece into three rolls. Place in a buttered baking dish to proof. I use this tabletop proofer which is super useful as we get to cooler temperatures.
  1. When they have filled their space and look plump, place them in a heated oven and bake between 14–18 minutes. Here in Oregon, that time was over 20 minutes. Next time I will try 375 because I like a well-browned cinnamon roll, but faster. Time duration depends on your oven and preferences for doneness.
  1. Remove to a cooling rack when done and prepare the glaze.

Prepare the glaze

  1. Whisk the boiling water, 1 T first, into the powdered sugar. It will shrink in volume and get quite sticky. If you prefer a runnier glaze, add a few drops of water. A little water goes a long way when making this glaze. Drizzle glaze over the rolls. Oh, go ahead and eat. No need to wait. Then, call the rest of the family for some.

Recipe Notes

A note: This makes quite a bit of dough and could easily be halved. As it was, I made pretty thick walled rolls, but dang were they good. I also have decided that a mixture of butter, light and dark sugars and cinnamon mixed with the paddle attachment is the best way to go. There just is no other way I’ve found to get as much sugary cinnamony goodness inside. Add raisins or pecans or walnuts or anything else as it pleases you. Pecans would have pleased my wife, but the kids are purists, so, we suffered with plain, hot, home-made cinnamon rolls. Ugh! The things we do for our kids.

Enjoy. I did.

Dann Reid is the writer for, where this article first appeared. He’s a trained chef and baker and culinary arts teacher as well as daddy to the best 2 girls on most days.