Friend or foe?

Hello friends, 

There are quite a few new faces here this week, all thanks to a little retweet from Nigella. If you’re new here - welcome! This is my weekly* newsletter. I write about cooking ingredients (so far I’ve covered Miso, Harissa, Caraway, Saffron, Tahini, Hibiscus, MSG, Ghee, Star Anise, Sumac and there’s a lot more to come!). The initial idea was to highlight uses for abandoned ingredients, but then I realised that everyone’s cooking habits and preferences are very different. 

This week I am writing about cardamom, an unused mythical ingredient in my kitchen but really loved and admired by so many of my friends. I think my issue with cardamom comes from someone, somewhere, some time ago using an overwhelming amount of cardamom in a dish - a major turn off. But when used sparingly and paired with other components, its beautiful flavour and scent will elevate the simplest of dishes. So I am going to dig deep to understand it better (and help you too).

*sometimes a week goes on a bit longer than a traditional calendar.


What is cardamom? Cardamom a spice made from the seeds of several plants in the genera Elettaria and Amomum in the family Zingiberaceae. Both are native to the Indian subcontinent and Indonesia.

What does it taste like? Cardamom has a complex aroma with a piney, fruity, and almost menthol-like flavour. When used too much, it can be overwhelming. 

Can it be subbed? It’s hard to substitute cardamom as it has such a unique flavour, the closest that can be achieved is by mixing cinnamon and nutmeg in equal parts. 

Cardamom is one of the oldest spices, going back at least 4,000 years. It’s the second most expensive spice in the world, number one is Saffron). Cardamom originally came from the wild plants in the Western Ghats in Southern India. Thanks to the abundance of plants, the region became known as Cardamom Hills. During the 19th century, plantations of cardamom were set up by British colonists and this is where the majority of green and black cardamom comes from to this day. However, Guatemala is the biggest commercial producer of cardamom and in some parts, cardamom crops are considered to be of a higher value than coffee crops. 

There are three types of cardamom: 

  • Green Cardamon (known as true cardamom) - it’s the most commonly used variety that you will find in the supermarkets. Mostly used in sweet dishes (but would also work in savoury dishes). 

  • White Cardamom (bleached cardamom) - has less flavour than green and has the same uses. It’s grown in India, Malaysia and Costa Rica. 

  • Black Cardamom - has larger pods, dark brown in colour. The seeds have a smokey element which makes them the perfect choice for savoury dishes. It’s well used in sweet dishes in southern India. This variety is grown in the eastern Himalayas. 

Cardamom is a common ingredient in Indian and Middle Eastern Cuisines. But it is widely used in the West too, Sweden is one of the countries that uses cardamom the most. They use it to season everything from baked goods to meat dishes. Vikings discovered this spice during their travels and brought it back to Scandinavia. 

Some cultures use cardamom pods to aid digestion and refresh the breath by simply chewing on the seeds and pods. Ancient Egyptians used cardamom for medicinal purposes, as part of rituals and for embalming. The Greeks and Romans used it for its pungent aroma where it was the main ingredient in perfumes and aromatic oils. Cardamom features heavily in ‘Arabian Nights’ and is believed to be an aphrodisiac (macerate seeds in hot water to make cordial). Whilst the ancient Indians believed that cardamom was the cure for obesity. 


Cardamom pairs perfectly with cinnamon, coffee, tea, pistachios and walnuts, nutmeg and cloves. You will often find it in recipes that use chocolate and zesty fruit too.



Other uses

Even more recipes to get creative with:  


Cardamom is easily accessible as all major supermarket stock it. Try and use it before its ‘best before' date as the potency of spice won’t be as good past that date. You’re likely to get black cardamom in speciality stores. The price and the quality of the spice are most likely to be better too. 


 Chocolate, Orange and Cardamom Cake

I am not a big fan of sickly, sweet, over the top desserts. If you’re looking for something light that you can enjoy with your cup of tea then this is the one. I adapted this recipe  by Rosie Birkett (who probably has one of my favourite palates) and only tweaked a couple of things.  

Makes 1 cake - share it. Or don’t. I did.


For the cake:

  • 1 large seedless orange to cook 

  • 1/2 orange, juiced and zested

  • 160g ground almonds

  • 40g cocoa powder

  • 120g polenta or corn maize 

  • 1/4 tsp salt 

  • 1 tsp baking powder(sieve it if needs to, mine was quite lumpy) 

  • 3 large eggs

  • 225g golden sugar 

  • 225ml olive oil, plus extra for tin (or use Fry Light as I do)

For the syrup:

  • 50g golden caster sugar 

  • 1.5 orange, juiced

  • 6 cardamom pods, seeds removed and ground

  • 30ml water 

To serve: 

  • Creme fraiche or yoghurt 


  1. Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil and add the orange. Simmer for 30 minutes. While the timer is going, start with your wet and dry ingredients and tin prep.  

  2. Use a cake tin 23cm, line it with parchment paper and cover the paper and the sides with oil (or Fry Light spray-not as messy).

  3. In a large bowl sieve through the ground almonds, cocoa powder, polenta, salt and the baking powder. Mix well. 

  4. Preheat the oven to 180C/160C fan/ gas 4. The orange should be ready by now, get it out of the pan. Let it cool, once it’s cooled quarter it and remove and piths. Put the orange and juice of 1/2 oranges into a food mixer, blitz well until it turns into a puree. 

  5. In another mixing bowl (or a standing mixer), cream the eggs and sugar until pale and voluminous. Add the oil slowly and incorporate well. Now add the orange puree and combine. Add the dry ingredients and mix well until you have a smooth batter. Pour into a cake tin and bake for 55 minutes to 1h 5minutes until it’s cooked through (you can check by putting a skewer through or a clean knife). Mine took 55 minutes so keep an eye on it from the 55-minute mark. 

  6. Take the cake out of the oven and leave it to cool on the side. Now, get the syrup mixture on - in a small saucepan mix the water, juice from the oranges, ground cardamom seeds and water. Let it simmer for 5 minutes until the sugar dissolves, then let infuse for 30 minutes. I didn’t grind my cardamom too finely, so had to sieve it through first.

  7. Once the syrup has infused, poke some holes at the top of the cake and start applying the syrup. I used a brush but it can be just slowly poured over. Let it sit for 5 minutes and it’s ready to serve. Serve with creme fraiche or yoghurt.

Something to watch: loads of people are loving Waffles + Mochi on Netflix, but I’ll be streaming the Armenia episode of Parts Unknown 

Cookbooks to explore: One by Anna Jones , Crave by Ed Smith and Max’s Picnic Book (I thoroughly enjoyed every single chapter of Max’s Picnic Book, and I’d love to host a McDonald’s birthday party one year)

Something to listen to: Martinis on Recipe Club podcast

Something to read: Jay Rayner on unsolicited dietary advice 

Discovery of the week: NOT grabbing my phone for the first hour of the day and aimlessly scrolling through socials is ACTUALLY really good for me - who knew?!

By doing research for this issue, I realised that actually I probably eat cardamom more often than I realise, I’ll now be using it more confidently. See you next Sunday for the next instalment of #notanothercookbook, this time it’s Flavour by Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage. 

Anya xx 

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