How To Use Chinese Black Cardamom (Best Recipes Included)

Chinese cardamom
Chinese cardamom, also known as black cardamom, Cao Guo, or Amomum tsao-ko, is a spice commonly used in Chinese (especially Yunnan), Indian, Sichuan, Vietnamese, and Southeast Asian cuisines. It is native to China and is a member of the ginger family, ideal for a Chinese-style braised pork belly.

What is Chinese cardamom?

Chinese cardamom
Chinese cardamom

Chinese cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), also known as black cardamom, is a spice that comes from the seeds of the Amomum subulatum plant.

OriginNative to China but is common in India, Nepal, and other Southeast Asian countries
AppearancePods have a rough, wrinkled exterior and a tough outer shell
Flavor profileSmoky, earthy, camphor-like, and slightly bitter, with hints of menthol and camphor

Origin

It is native to China but is common in India, Nepal, and other Southeast Asian countries.

Appearance

Chinese cardamom pods are larger and darker than the more common green cardamom pods. They have a rough, wrinkled exterior and a tough outer shell that you must crack to access the seeds.

Flavor profile

The flavor profile of Chinese cardamom is smoky, earthy, camphor-like, and slightly bitter, with hints of menthol and camphor. It is often used in savory dishes such as stews, soups, braises, hot pots, stir-fries, Vietnamese pho, and curries to add depth and complexity or in other spice blends such as garam masala.

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Nutritional Benefits of Chinese cardamom

Cardamom, a spice commonly used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine as a breath freshener and digestive aid, may offer several health benefits

These benefits include improving heart health by potentially protecting against heart attacks and reducing cholesterol levels. Furthermore, cardamom might improve oral health by fighting bacteria that cause bad breath and cavities.

It can aid liver health by detoxifying and improving liver function, potentially possessing cancer-fighting properties due to natural phytochemicals.

Lastly, it seems it can also prevent stomach ulcers. Although encouraging, more research is needed to determine the full extent of cardamom’s health benefits in humans.

What is the difference between Chinese and Indian black cardamom?

Chinese black cardamomHas a smoky and earthy flavor, larger and has a wrinkled, dark brown surface
Indian black cardamomHas a sweeter and more floral taste, smaller and has a smoother, dark brown surface

Chinese black cardamom (Amomum subulatum) and Indian black cardamom (Lanxangia tsaoko formerly Amomum tsaoko) are different varieties of black cardamom with distinct flavors and aroma profiles. 

Chinese black cardamom has a smoky and earthy flavor, while Indian black cardamom has a sweeter and more floral taste. 

Additionally, Chinese black cardamom is larger and has a wrinkled, dark brown surface, whereas Indian black cardamom is smaller and has a smoother, dark brown surface.

Is cardamom like cinnamon?

Chinese cardamom, also known as Sha Ren or Amomum, is not like cinnamon, although these spices may be used together in some dishes.

Chinese cardamom is a spice commonly used in Chinese and other Asian cuisines and has a distinct flavor and aroma similar to ginger, with hints of citrus and a slight floral note. It is present in savory dishes, such as braised meat or stir-fried vegetables, and in some sweets and desserts.

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Cinnamon, on the other hand, is a spice that has a sweet and woody flavor with a warm aroma. It is commonly used in sweet and savory dishes and is a popular spice in many cuisines worldwide, including Asian cuisine.

Chinese cardamom is also dark brown to black and often sold in dried pods, while cinnamon is reddish-brown and sold as sticks or ground powder.

A brief comparison of cardamom seeds and cardamom pods

Cardamom seeds and pods
Cardamom seeds and pods
Green cardamomSold as whole pods or ground seeds, warm, slightly sweet flavor
Black cardamomSold as whole pods, warm, slightly sweet with smoky undertone

There are two main types of cardamom: green cardamom and black cardamom. Green cardamom is commonly used in cooking and sold as whole pods or ground seeds, while black cardamom is usually sold as whole pods.

Green and black cardamom have a warm, slightly sweet, and floral flavor, but black cardamom has a smoky undertone.

Regarding cardamom seeds versus pods, the seeds are the small, black, and very aromatic roundly shaped things inside the pods.

The seed pods are light green and usually about 1-2 inches long.

While you can use both the seeds and pods, the pods are more commonly used in traditional South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisines, where they are added whole to dishes such as biryani and pilafs to impart flavor.

Cardamom seeds are often used in baked goods, such as cakes and cookies, and are usually ground before being added to the recipe. They can also be used to make chai tea or added to spice blends for meat or vegetable dishes.

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Best uses for cardamom in cooking

Cardamom is a magical spice that can change how you look at your favorite dishes. Here are some of the best ways to use cardamom:

Kashmiri biryani: if you want to have a go at a complex dish with a wide array of aromas, this delectable fusion of succulent meat, aromatic Kashmiri spices, dried fruits, and rice will not disappoint.

Chicken curry with black cardamom: the tender and juicy texture of the chicken pairs well with the aromatic spices. This dish is also versatile, as it pairs well with rice, naan bread, or even on its own as a hearty stew. 

Pistacchio cardamomĀ ice cream: a unique and flavorful dessert that combines the nutty taste of pistachios with the spicy, citrusy flavor of cardamom – two distinct flavors that work together to create a deliciously complex taste that is both refreshing and indulgent.

Alexandra

Alexandra is a passionate writer with a deep appreciation for food - not just as nourishment but as an expression of culture, a reflection of history, and a celebration of life. She knows that everything in life requires a little spice - and gets a kick (get it?) every time she achieves the perfect combination of heat and depth.

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