Spice Hack: The Best Cardamom Substitutes

Cardamom is a special and powerful spice that adds warmth to any dish. Out of all the spices in your rack, this spice is the most versatile of them all since you can use it in both sweet and savory dishes — all thanks to its complex flavor, which is a combination of woody, herbal, nutty, fruity and citrusy flavors.

You can use cardamom to liven up savory dishes like roasted chicken or challah and sweet dishes like rice pudding, snickerdoodles, hot chocolate and blondies. Simply put, this go-to spice is a must-have, especially during those ‘Dull Dish’ days.

But what happens when you’ve run out of cardamom? Or what if you’re not a big fan of this spice’s price in the market?

Think cardamom substitute!

If you’ve run out of cardamom pods or just need more spice to your savory and sweet dishes, there are plenty of substitutes for cardamom. You have plenty of options! And the best news is you can find these cardamom substitutes in your kitchen pantry.

But before we can talk about the best cardamom substitute, let’s discuss the spice first.

What is Cardamom?

Considered one of the world’s oldest spices, cardamom is native to the Middle East and India, though it is grown in many countries.

There are two types of cardamom: green and black. Though both cardamom varieties come from the same plant, the green cardamom is harvested before it matures and is eventually cured. On the other hand, black cardamom is harvested at maturity. Their seeds are dried over the fire. It is also more affordable compared to green cardamom pods, seeds and powders.

Speaking of cardamom pods and powders, most recipes call for the interchangeable use of these cardamom varieties. When you buy cardamom pods, you have to break them open to get the seeds. On the other hand, when you use cardamom powder, you’re already using the pulverized version of the seeds.

What Does Cardamom Taste Like?

As mentioned above, cardamom has a unique yet complex flavor that depends on the type of cardamom you’re using. For example, when you use black cardamom pods or ground cardamom, you give your dish a slightly minty and very smoky taste, which is similar to star anise. But if you use green cardamom, you incorporate a zesty flavor to your dish. Both cardamom options are potent, so a pinch of both goes a long way.

What is a Good Substitute for Cardamom?

If you need a good cardamom substitute, look for the following ingredients in your pantry or at your local grocery.

Cardamom Substitute #1: Cinnamon

Cinnamon and Star Anis Spices
Photo by Mareefe

Cinnamon and nutmeg are some of the most popular cardamom substitutes. Cinnamon, specifically, has a woody spice that is slightly sweet and a bit spicy. You can either use cinnamon sticks or ground cinnamon.

Cinnamon sticks are a good substitute for cardamom pods. If the recipe calls for a cardamom pod, add in a few sticks of cinnamon and some cloves to mimic the flavor of cardamom. The recipe becomes trickier if you need cardamom for sweet dishes like cakes. Use ground cinnamon along with ground cloves.

Cardamom Substitute #2: Nutmeg

You can purchase this popular spice in powdered form or as whole seeds. Similar to cardamom, nutmeg has a slightly nutty flavor that complements dishes like porridge and chai tea. Nutmeg is a favorite cardamom substitute due to its similar flavor profile to cardamom.

Some cooks and bakers use both nutmeg and cinnamon to achieve the complex flavor of cardamom. The sweetness of these spices complements each other, especially when they’re used for sweet recipes. You can also use this mixture as a substitute for cardamom in curries and other spicy dishes.

Use equal parts cinnamon and nutmeg to achieve the perfect substitute for cardamom pods or powders.

Cardamom Substitute #3: Allspice

This cardamom substitute is made from the dried berries of the Pimenta dioica plant. The flavors of allspice are similar to nutmeg, pepper, cloves, cinnamon and cardamom. It has a warm and smoky flavor, which is a trademark of cardamom.

You can use allspice as a substitute for cardamom in a variety of recipes. However, it’s best to use allspice for savory dishes, particularly fish dishes, meat dishes and curries.

When it comes to using allspice as a substitute for cardamom, use a small amount to prevent the spice from overpowering the overall taste of the dish. The safest measurement is half a teaspoon of ground allspice. You’ll end up with a dish that passes restaurant taste standards.

Cardamom Substitute #4: Ginger

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Ginger is one of the best cardamom substitutes in the market since it works so well with any recipe. It is often associated with sweet dishes like pastries and cakes. Despite being a popular spice for desserts, ginger is also a good addition to many stews and curries. This is why ginger is one of the best cardamom substitutes out there.

Ginger offers the same citrus flavor and spicy warmth as cardamom. On top of that, it’s easier to find and more affordable than cardamom.

All you need is half a teaspoon of ground ginger to replicate the iconic cardamom taste. If you want to use fresh ginger, chop it into smaller pieces or grate it first.

Cardamom Substitute #5: Coriander Seeds and Cumin

An equal mixture of coriander and cumin is another good substitute for cardamom, especially for spicy dishes and meat recipes. Coriander and cumin are often used in Indian dishes and cannot be used for sweet dishes since their flavors do not translate well into sweetness.

Cardamom Substitutes FAQs

What’s the Difference Between Cardamom and Nutmeg?

Cardamom comes from an herb while nutmeg comes from an evergreen tree. Nutmeg seeds are often covered in reddish lacy covering, which you can ground into powder. On the other hand, a cardamom pod contains smaller seeds than nutmeg seeds.

What’s the Best Substitute for Black Cardamom?

The best substitute for black cardamom is a combination of allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon. These three spices together closely replicate the complex flavors of the black cardamom pod.

Is Cardamom Similar to Cloves?

They have many similarities. Both spices are woody and intense. The dish can be bitter if you overuse cardamom or cloves.

Cardamom Substitutes for Savory and Sweet Dishes

If you run out of cardamom pods or ground cardamom in your pantry, do not fret! There are still plenty of substitutes out there. The best cardamom substitutes can be easily found in your pantry or at your local grocery.

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