Ingredient Focus: Cardamom

The perfumed fragrance of cardamom is one of the most intriguing, alluring and deeply powerful ingredients in the kitchen. From lacing a humble bowl of rice with its presence, to using it as the foundation for Scandinavian pastry, this potent little pod is capable of very great things indeed.

The small triangular pod is found growing throughout India, Nepal, Bhutan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, where it has been exported for some time and arguably where British influence of the ingredient has come from – thanks to the old trade routes of London’s East India trading company. Cardamom is also recorded as being one of the world’s most expensive ingredients by weight, sitting close behind luxury kitchen staples like saffron and vanilla.

In a more rewarding and satisfying take on the cinnamon bun, Scandinavia has been producing ethereal cardamom buns which work tremendously as a breakfast item and have recently begun surfacing in high end coffee shops everywhere from Edinburgh to Bristol.

Cardamom also has the wonderful quality of working with milk. The flavour permeates its way delicately through the liquid and provides you with a number of diverse uses. Bread and butter pudding made with this milk is revelatory, while ice creams are rapidly earning their place on the dessert menu. This naturally derives and takes influence from kulfi, which is also getting a lot of action in upscale Indian restaurants and beyond.

Cardamom infused milk is a powerful ingredient in itself and when used for poaching fish and meat, it makes for some incredibly interesting results. This allows you to begin layering up flavours in certain dishes and build complexity into the end product.

I’m sure everyone remembers biting down on a cardamom pod accidentally left in a curry or rice dish from an Indian takeaway, and this is perhaps why cardamom can seem to strike a ‘love it or hate it’ mentality among diners. However, diners have never been more primed for exotic. The wave of celebrity chefs and food TV dominance has been riding high for some time now, so we can expect to be able to reintroduce flavours to customers that are primed to have their minds changed. In other words, lets not dismiss cardamom as a Marmite ingredient that will alienate clientele and instead consider ways of using it in perhaps more subtle and background ways as well.

As cardamom futures prices rise on the New Delhi stock market, craft breweries have also been quick to move on cardamom and begin using it in the brewing of various beers. This gives restaurateurs and chefs the opportunity to compliment subtle notes in a dish with a beverage that’s in tune with the meal.

Whether it’s infusing the beatific spice in liquids and broths for future culinary use, or harnessing the fragrance of cardamom in humble, plain and unadorned ways, expect this spice to be an reckonable force this year, and get a lot of action everywhere from the tables of casual bistros, to Michelin pursuing restaurants.

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