What is cardamom and what does it taste like?

If you've ever watched any of those baking challenge shows on Food Network, there's a good chance you've heard the contestants refer to cardamom. Perhaps you're unfamiliar with this spice and said to yourself, "Carda what?" Cardamom may not get the acclaim of cinnamon, nor does it pop up in recipes as often as ginger, but this spice is very much a potent addition to any spice rack. 

It was first used by the Egyptians as mouth fresheners and later by the Greeks in perfumes, but more importantly, what does this spice taste like and how can you go about using it in your own kitchen?

It has a complex taste and strong aroma

In its raw form, cardamom is a greenish pod that comes from a plant that thrives in the mountainous forests of India, but today is grown in warm climates such as Florida and Hawaii (via Gardener's Path). 

As for the taste, that really depends on whether it's green or black cardamom. Green cardamom produces a zesty citrus flavor that can be somewhat sweet and spicy at the same time. Black cardamom, on the other hand, has an almost smoky, minty, menthol-like flavor that works especially well in savory dishes (via Taste of Home). You may occasionally see white cardamom, which is just green cardamom that has been bleached to give it a more mild flavor. Regardless of the type of cardamom that you opt to use, it's a pretty strong and aromatic spice, and people on the Chowhound message boards seem to agree that a little bit goes a long way. 

The spice can also be a bit pricey, so you'll want to use it sparingly anyway (via Luxury Insider). 

Cardamom is used in everything from stews to desserts

Because it's in the same botanical spice family as ginger and turmeric, cardamom pops up a lot in many Indian and Middle Eastern recipes. It pairs great with both poultry and red meat, and can make an excellent addition to stews and curries. Because of the spice's citrus flavorings, it also works great with cinnamon and pistachios, and is often used in various baked goods. Domestic diva Martha Stewart even likes to use the spice in her mulled wine recipe (via Martha Stewart). 

Both black and green cardamom are used in a variety of recipes — however, they're not necessarily interchangeable, and choosing one over the other will really alter the overall taste. The form of the spice that you choose to use can also really affect how strong the cardamom flavoring is, too. The Spice Guide recommends using it in a ground form if you don't want it to be too potent — perhaps for a cake or Swedish coffee bread. If you really want a strong hit of the stuff, going straight for the cardamom pods themselves can deliver a real punch to a pot of herbal tea. 

While the ground form of cardamom is made from the seeds within the pods, if you're grinding your own, the pods themselves don't necessarily have to go to waste. Tasty Bite recommends adding them to everything from lemonade to flavored rice.  

Remember that depending on the type of cardamom you use, the form you use it in, and the type of food you're making will all affect just how much flavor you get. It's certainly a fantastic spice to work with, but a dash of it in your pancake batter is going to taste a lot different than if you're adding it to a stew or curry. 

It's been used for its reported health benefits for centuries

So we know that this zesty spice has some pretty complex flavors that can be used in an equal amount of complex ways, but it's also worth pointing out its health benefits. Cardamom hasn't just been used in cooking for centuries — it's also been tapped for its medicinal properties. We don't advise that you start whipping up your own medicines, but you can still reap the benefits of cardamom by cooking with it. 

Cardamom has been studied for its effects on possibly reducing blood pressure and helping with weight loss, but one of the more unique aspects is its ability to help fight bad breath. According to Healthline, some cultures would eat entire cardamom pods to combat bad breath because of the spice's ability to fight cavity-causing bacteria. Wrigley's gum has even used it in their products. 

Are you ready to give this ancient spice that's packed with vitamin A and vitamin C a try?