When preparing certain Indian dishes, a cardamom substitute is required, but with such a potent and recognizable flavor, choosing the right substitute isn’t always the easiest decision. Cardamom is one of the most popular spices in the Asian cuisines, but for amateur chefs in the other parts of the world, cardamom may not be on the spice rack. Made by grinding up the seeds from various plants in the Elettaria and Amomum genera, cardamom comes in seed pods and is typically found in two different varieties – green cardamom and black cardamom.
However, green cardamom is one of the world’s most expensive spice by weight, which is a reason why many people seek out a cardamom substitute for their spicy dishes. While black cardamom is notably less expensive than green cardamom, it is still not commonly seen in every kitchen. However, with the popularity of Indian cuisine around the globe, this spice appears in plenty of recipes.
The flavor of green cardamom is quite unique and an aromatic scent that is slightly smoky, but also refreshing, often resembles that of mint. It also has certain citrus notes, combined with a distinctly earthy tone. It is used to improve the flavor of meat and bean dishes, as well as pastries and desserts. Cardamom is even included as a flavor burst in coffee and alcoholic cocktails. Black cardamom is an entirely different spice and is used primarily in savory dishes, thanks to its primarily smoky flavor. This unique flavor profile of both cardamom varieties makes finding an adequate cardamom substitute difficult, but far from impossible.
Best Cardamom Substitutes for Cooking
Cinnamon and Ginger
A simple combination of equal parts of cinnamon and dried ginger can be a useful black cardamom substitute. It contains both the earthy elements of cardamom, as well as the sweet and tart bite, thanks to the ginger. Less of this spice combination is required than a normal amount of cardamom, as both ginger and cinnamon are quite pronounced in dishes.
Cinnamon and Nutmeg
Cinnamon adds a bit of the “heat” in a spice combination, while nutmeg provides more of the sweet side of cardamom. This making the combination an effective cardamom substitute in both savory and sweet dishes, particularly in curries or stews.
This spice is made from the dried, ground seeds of the Pimenta dioica tree, and has a versatile flavor profile that responds well within different recipes. Similar to cardamom, it is used in both sweet and savory dishes and can be used in the same amount as cardamom in your culinary preparations.
Although cumin is definitely on the savory side, it is a common spice in Asian and Mexican cuisines. It provides an earthy, but an aromatic bite to certain foods, and enhances milder flavors. It is a great black cardamom substitute, as green cardamom is more often found in sweet preparations, for which cumin wouldn’t be appropriate.
Perhaps, one of the best options as a cardamom substitute, cloves have a smoky and aromatic quality that is pungent to the nose, but warm and flavorful to the taste buds. Cloves are already used in savory and sweet preparations, so it can function as a great replacement for both black and green cardamom, depending on the recipe.
Nutmeg, Coriander & Allspice
If you want to be a bit more creative, try blending equal parts of these three spices to mimic the taste and the aroma of black cardamom. Be sure not to use too much of these three, as they can be quite potent, and may overpower the dish. Keep the total volume equal to the total recommended volume of black cardamom in the given recipe.
Nutmeg, Cinnamon, Clove, Allspice
For sweet dishes, an excellent green cardamom substitute consists of nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, and allspice. However, you must use 4 parts of nutmeg to 1 part each of cinnamon, clove, and allspice to accurately mimic the green cardamom.
If you are cooking with whole coriander seeds, you will notice that the aroma is quite sweet and floral, which is one of the attributes of cardamom. However, once you grind coriander seeds, the nutty and earthy aroma is released, thanks to the natural oils, which also work as a cardamom substitute. Depending on the recipe and the type of cardamom that is called for, coriander in the ground or in the whole form is an excellent replacement.
Black Cardamom for Green Cardamom
A majority of the recipes that call for cardamom refer to green cardamom, and due to the price and availability of this spice variety, a substitute is often sought. Oddly enough, you can use black cardamom, which is notably less expensive, to replace green cardamom, particularly in savory dishes. In sweet dishes, the black cardamom can add a bit too much of an earthy or aromatic element.