Intensely aromatic, sweet, complex, spicy, beguiling, heady—these all describe cardamom, a spice that appears throughout classical Indian cuisine in everything from garam masala to masala chai (spiced tea) to kheer (a sweet rice dessert). Cardamom is also used extensively in the Middle East to flavor coffee, and thanks to the Vikings’ 11th century presence in Constantinople, it often appears in Scandinavian breads, cookies, and other baked goods.
What it is
Native to India, cardamom is related to ginger. But whereas ginger is valued for its rhizome (an underground part of the plant), it’s cardamom’s dried seed pods that are most commonly used in cooking.
The three basic varieties of cardamom
Green, or “true” cardamom, is considered the finest and most aromatic of the three types. It’s used in sweet and savory dishes throughout India.