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Cardamom pods (Recipe: masalawali chai — Indian spiced tea)


Did you know that more than eighty percent of the world's export production of cardamom pods finds its way into cups of coffee?

Not into Starbucks mocha cappuccino.

Not into Peet's cafe au lait.

Not into the Dunkin' Donuts Great One my husband drinks almost every morning.

In Arab cultures, cardamom -- the world's third most expensive spice, after saffron and vanilla -- is added to coffee, as a sign of hospitality. Before guests are served, they are shown the green cardamom pods that will be used. The appearance of the pods is important; the more plump and perfect the pods, the more respect for the guest.

Native to the Cardamom Hills region of Kerala, cardamom is the fruit of an herbaceous plant in the ginger family. The best cardamom still comes from India, but it's also cultivated in Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea and Guatemala. Fruits are harvested by hand just before they are fully ripe; after drying in the sun for a few days, the pods are ready. Each pod contains 15-20 small black seeds.

As with most spices, ground cardamom degrades rapidly, so whenever possible, buy whole pods and grind as you go. To remove the seeds, which are slightly sticky, toast the pods in a dry pan for one minute. Place in a mortar and bruise the pods slightly with a pestle. Remove the outer pods and pound the seeds into a powder.

When you shop, look for plump and evenly-colored pods. Store in the freezer, or in a jar in a cool, dark area of your pantry. The flavor will hold for a year or more, though the color will fade a bit.

Considered one of the "warm" spices, cardamom lends a strong, fruity, somewhat smoky and almost bittersweet flavor to both sweet and savory dishes, and it's an essential component of every cook's garam masala. Used whole, the pods add subtle seasoning to rice, dal, chutney, pumpkin wontons, rack of lamb, chickpea or chicken curry, The ground seeds might find their way into fragrant baked goods like pulla, winter white cheesecake, cardamom yogurt pudding or chocolate soufflé.

While the majority of the world's export goes to Arab cultures, ten percent lands in Scandinavia, where cardamom is a popular addition to spiced cakes, cookies and breads -- and, of course, Swedish meatballs.

Masalawali chai -- Indian spiced tea

When our local farm stand opened a little café two summers ago at the intersection of nowhere and nowhere, and posted a sign outside announcing WE HAVE CHAI, I knew this wonderful drink had "arrived." This recipe, which is really a method for making many variations of chai, comes from Feast of India: A Legacy of Recipes and Fables, by Rani (Mahendri Arundale). Serves 6.


7 cups cold water
1 cup milk
1 cinnamon stock
6 green cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
1-1/4 inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup light brown sugar, honey or agave nectar
2 Tbsp Darjeeling, Assam or Nilgiris tea


In a pot, bring the water and milk to a boil over medium heat. Stir in the spices and brown sugar. Boil for 5 minutes, and turn off the heat. Cover the pot and let the spices steep for 10 minutes, then add the tea leaves and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain the tea and serve immediately.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Grilled fruit with cardamom yogurt
Prawn fried rice
Aromatic rice pudding

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


As always Lydia, what an informative post and gosh, we are always on the same page! We just bought a new book today by Jill Normal called "Herbs & Spices. The cook's reference" and it's such a fantastic, fantastic book. In it we discovered (today!) about different varieties of cardamom including Bengal, Chinese, Javanese Winged, Cambodian, and Ethiopian cardamoms! Have you any of these?
Luv the chai! Chai power!

Todd asking here- Just noticed your Favorite food flicks, have you seen "A Chef In Love", "Babette's Feast" and "Eat, Drink, Man, Woman" ? We're going to have to check out La Grand Bouffe. That's a new one for us. Thanks!

Cardamom is my favourite spice. Being Indian, it couldn't be anything else. We use it a lot of our desserts.

Lydia, I want so much to make this but serve immediately when it's only me to drink would make it medicine. Think I can divide and get Chai for maybe two! I'm going to try.
I love cardamom, it's kind of like sweet without more sugar to me.

Cardamom and cilantro are my glass roof. I don´t hate them or anything, but if they dissappeared off the face of the earth I wouldn´t mind at all. This makes me feel bad, but o well.

I've yet tasted coffee with cardamom added! I'm introduced a new flavor of coffee today. Thanks.

I've written about cardamom before so I knew most of the fascinating info shared here, but I did not know about the custom of showing cardamom pods to guests, nor about the correlation between how the pods look and the level of respect given to the guest. Very cool! You never cease to amaze with your esoteric bits of knowledge. :)

Cardamom is one of my fave spices too. My tea is never quite complet if I have not put a couple of crushed cardamom pods in it. I also love it in cakes and desserts (like that saffron cardamom panna cotta ;-))

I've never really explored the uses of cardamom pods. My mum usually puts them in bryani. I should try to make some of your tea!

Lydia, that was the only time I have used cardamom so far - I should definitely do it again!

Oh my, should I be embarrassed? I've never tried or served cardamom in coffee before, and I consider myself to be a hospitable host, albeit not a world-traveled one.

In relation to Todd's comment about your list of favorite food flicks (and forgive me if this sounds silly,) but as an avid cook and mom to 3, I really enjoyed Disney's film, Ratatouille. It was inspiring for young cooks (and old ones too, uh hum, that would be me,) and the ending even caused me to shed a tear (which isn't hard as I'm very sentimental.) If you haven't seen it and enjoy cooking at all, it's worth a view (even sans kids!)

I had absolutely no idea -- how fascinating! I love how reading your blog teaches me so much about the history of different spices and ingredients. How the same spice is used so differently by separate cultures continues to amaze me. Cookies, curry and coffee... that's versatility!

Sounds like such a lovely afternoon tea.

Cardamom is a very festive spice for me. And for me its just got to me mithai !!! i'm not really a masaley walli chai gal,but more a sweet dish kinda gal , and practically no indian sweet is made without cardamom.

I love the elements of ceremony and hospitality that the cardamom pods represent.

WORC, Jill Norman's Herbs & Spices is one of the mainstays of my cooking collection (another is Starting with Ingredients, by Aliza Green). I'd recommend it to all cooks.

Todd, I've seen all of those movies! How about the very campy "Who's Killing the Great Chefs of Europe"? It's silly, but I love it.

Aparna, there are so many wonderful Indian dishes that use cardamom, aren't there?

MyKitchen, how about saving the other half for iced chai?

Lobstersquad, I feel the same way about cilantro.

Tigerfish, I love the idea of cardamom coffee, but then I am a bit of a purist about my coffee, don't really like any flavored coffee.

Ari, TW: this reminds me, of course, of the Japanese tea ceremony, where hospitality is utmost and is shown through respect for the ingredients.

Meeta, the cardamom panna cotta recipe on your blog is lovely.

Valentina, I've had cardamom on biryani, too. Definitely going to be part of my ongoing exploration of Indian cooking.

Patricia, I do hope you'll try it again!

Sandie, maybe this will become a new B&B tradition?! Yes, I've seen Ratatouille -- by the time I got around to seeing it, I'd heard and read so much hype that I think I was expecting more. It was cute, and the animation was great.

Camila, that's what I love about a good pantry -- it can fill the needs of any type of cuisine you want to cook.

Peabody, I agree.

Kate, Indian sweets are so interesting, and I know so little about them. I did have a cardamom spiced kulfi once, and really enjoyed it.

I had no idea Cardamon was a sign of hospitality in Arab cultures, which is a surprise because I am half Lebanese. Learn something new every day- specially when visiting your blog!

I have an Indian party to cater coming up and Cardamon is surely to be included. maybe your rice pudding. :)


Dear Lydia,
cardamom chai is mine fav too ..
in fact Cardamom is added to Kheer that we make for deserts ...
and thanks for sharing great info on Arab Culture ..
hugs and smiles

As usual, I learn something new from you! I didn't know that about cardamom. Those are beautiful pods there in the photo!

I love cardamom and couldn't get by without it. Indian teas and coffees were a delightful discovery for me since you take two separately delicious things and combine them into one amazing thing and its definitely the way to start the day (combined with a home-made Indian breakfast...mmm). This recipe reminds me that its been too long for me since I last had any!

I tend to be lazier about using it though, not shelling and grinding it, but rather, toasting it briefly and then simmering the pods in whatever cooking liquid I'm working with, removing it later in the process. The less prep work I have to do, the better. ;-)

I love the taste of cardamom and also have a terrific indian spiced tea recipe that uses them. I may have to try yours and compare.

Katia, isn't it a lovely custom? Hospitality is so important in many cultures; I wonder why it is not so highly valued in the United States.

Jaya, thank you. I've never made kheer; must try it.

Sher, I buy this cardamom at a middle eastern market; it's always so fresh.

Mike, until a few years ago, I never cooked with cardamom -- it just wasn't part of my family's culinary heritage. Once I discovered it, though, I found all kinds of ways to use it. Breakfast? Hmmmm. That sounds appealing!

Kate, please share your recipe! I'm always looking for new ways to use my pantry ingredients.

You can't beat the smell of making your own chai and can you imagine it with a swedish cardamom bread? And I totally hear you about the excitement of seeing chai hit the small town, that is something to remark over.

I love cardamom AND especially cilantro. ;-)


Callipygia, my first taste of cardamom bread was a revelation -- it was made by an artist in our town and served to visitors during an open studios event. As you approached the studio, in a converted barn, you could smell the bread and it was so seductive. You just wanted to follow that aroma, wherever it would lead you!

Paz, I'm with you on the cardamom, but cilantro....well, it's not my cup of tea.

Finns living is this area are purists when they make their Nisu, the cardamom bread, usually at Christmas. They use whole bleached pods and didn't want to switch to the green pods, in spite of my assurances that it was the same. My favorite: a beet-date chutney!

Susan, unless we're both mistaken (we aren't!), the white pods are just green pods that have been bleached. Beet-date chutney sounds divine. Have you posted a recipe? If so, share the link, please.

Memory fails me: The chutney doesn't have cardamom. Why did I remember it so clearly?
Anyway, it was good, from Indian Vegetarian Cookery, by Jack Santa Maria.

LOL! I'm not really into tea although I do enjoy the occasional tea - black with one sugar! One of my closest friends cannot survive without his Masala Tea and when he makes it, I do enjoy it! Lovely post!

Susan, I don't need much encouragement to check out new-to-me cookbooks; will look for this one at the library.

Dharm, chai is an acquired taste for me, too. In my family when I was growing up, everyone drank coffee, and the only time we would be given tea (with lemon and honey) is when we were sick. So for the longest time, I associated tea with being sick, and coffee with being "well"!

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