If you need a cardamom substitute for your next sweet treat or savory dish, you've come to the right place! Cardamom is packed with sweet, spicy, and fruity flavors and aromas, giving it a unique taste to replicate.
The good news is several spices have a similar taste profile and can be used as a substitute on their own or when combined with other spices. In this guide, I dive into each of those substitutes to help you decide the best cardamom substitute for your recipe!
- What is cardamom?
- How many varieties of cardamom are there?
- What does cardamom taste like?
- What flavor is cardamom similar to?
- Whole vs. Ground Cardamom
- What is the best cardamom substitute?
- 1. Cinnamon
- 2. Nutmeg
- 3. Ginger
- 4. Cloves
- 5. Allspice
- 6. Coriander Seeds
- 7. Cumin
- 8. Apple Pie Spice
- 9. Pumpkin Spice
- 10. Galangal
- 11. Spice Mixtures
- So, which is the best?
- Best Cardamom Substitute for Baking
- Best Cardamom Substitute in Garam Masala
- Best Cardamom Substitute in Chai Tea
- Best Cardamom Substitute in Curry
- Cardamom Substitute FAQs
- What can I use cardamom for in baking?
- The BEST Cardamom Substitute
What is cardamom?
Cardamom (also known as cardamon or cardamum) is a spice derived from the seeds of several plants in the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. Although native to southern India, it is nowadays also produced in Guatemala, Malaysia, and Tanzania.
Popular in Middle Eastern, Arabic, Indian kitchens, and Sweden, cardamom has been used for centuries in cooking savory and sweet dishes alike. The seeds and the oil from the seeds are also sometimes used to make medicine, as it has chemicals known to kill bacteria, reduce inflammation and benefit the immune system.
Cardamom can come in three forms: Ground cardamom powder, cardamom seeds, and cardamom pods. The main difference between the three is their shape and texture: Ground cardamom is a powdered form of the cardamom seed, which is small and black. Cardamom pods are trigonal and hold the seeds, with approximately 8-16 seeds in each pod. You can find both ground cardamom and whole cardamom pods in the spice section of your local grocery store.
How many varieties of cardamom are there?
There are two main varieties of cardamom, green and black but green cardamom comes in a "bonus" bleached type, white cardamom. However, since white cardamom is technically green cardamom, it cannot be considered a true varietal.
Green cardamom, known as true cardamom, is harvested early from the Elettaria cardamomum plant. This varietal has a sage-green color and a size similar to that of a peanut. Although the seeds inside the pod are used in cooking and to make ground cardamom, the husk is also edible.
Black cardamom is smoke-dried after harvest and has a dark brown, rough exterior resembling tree bark. The black cardamom pods are slightly larger than the green cardamom pods.
White cardamom is another version of green cardamom. Unlike black cardamom, which grows from a different plant, white cardamom comes from the green cardamom plant and is bleached to diffuse the flavor. White cardamom is more prevalent in Central Asia and China, adding a delicious aroma and flavor to stews and broths.
What does cardamom taste like?
Each type of cardamom has a unique taste, giving them each different uses in food and dessert recipes.
True cardamom, or green cardamom, has a fragrant, sweet, and spicy flavor that resembles mint, eucalyptus, and pepper. Its zesty flavor tends to be sweeter than cumin yet more citrusy than fennel. Of the three, it has the most intense recognizable taste, known as cardamom's "traditional" taste.
On the other hand, black cardamom has an intense earthy, smoky, and minty flavor that makes it an excellent spice in savory dishes. White cardamom has a very mellow yet warm flavor with notes of mint and lemon.
What flavor is cardamom similar to?
Cardamom has a unique flavor that is sweet, spicy, and fruity. That said, there are several flavors that cardamom is similar to, including cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg, and coriander seeds. When looking for a cardamom substitute, combining these spices to recreate the flavor isn't uncommon. I'll dive into a few of these combinations at the end of this guide!
Whole vs. Ground Cardamom
When using cardamom to spice up your favorite desserts and dishes, you may find yourself asking which is better: whole cardamom or ground cardamom? The answer to that question depends greatly on how you plan to use them.
The difference between the two versions of the spice lies mainly in their appearance and taste. Whole cardamom is larger, as they carry the cardamom seeds that make ground cardamom within their pods. When it comes to shelf life, whole cardamom lasts longer since the pods protect the seeds, which provide the flavor. They are also more expensive than ground powder. Whole cardamom is best in savory dishes because of its bold flavor and aroma.
On the other hand, ground cardamom comes from grounded cardamom seeds and looks like a powder. Flavorwise, it has a milder, sweet flavor than whole cardamom, making it a great addition to sweet and savory dishes. However, since cardamom's taste tends to quickly fade once grounded, it is best to use freshly ground cardamom, especially if you don't plan to use it within a month.
What is the best cardamom substitute?
There are several standalone and combination replacements to choose from that mimic the same aroma and flavor as cardamom. However, when selecting a replacement, it is important to consider what you're using it for, as not all substitutes work for all desserts or dishes. Here are several to consider:
- Coriander Seeds
- Apple Pie Spice
- Pumpkin Spice
- Spice Mixtures
Because of its stand-out aroma that very closely resembles that of cardamom, cinnamon is at the top of the list for cardamom substitutes. Not only does it also have an earthy aroma, but it also brings a sweet, spicy, and warm flavor.
When used as a cardamom substitute, cinnamon is best for sweet dishes such as baked desserts and beverages but can also go well with soups, curries, and meats. Only a pinch is required, but you can increase the amount as needed. Use it 1:1 as a cardamom alternative.
With a warm, earthy flavor and fruity notes, nutmeg is another top choice for a cardamom substitute. Similar to cardamom, nutmeg comes in both whole and powdered forms.
When used as a substitute, nutmeg is best in dishes such as soups, sauces, stews, meats, and vegetables. In terms of quantity, it is an equal substitute. You can replace cardamom in a 1:1 ratio.
A third top choice for cardamom substitutes is ginger, which, like cardamom, packs an intense, fruity aroma and tangy, spicy flavor.
Ginger is an excellent cardamom substitute in sweet recipes but also goes great in meat-based dishes. When using ground ginger, you can replace cardamom in a 1:1 ratio. However, if you use fresh ginger, it is best to use half the amount.
Cloves have a mix of sweet and spicy aromas and flavors, making them an excellent cardamom alternative.
When used as a cardamom substitute, cloves are best when added to sweet and savory dishes such as meats, stews, and sauces or marinades. It is best to start by only using half the amount of cloves you would have used of cardamom and then increase as necessary.
Allspice is like a combination of the best cardamom substitutes and is often confused with cardamom itself. Many believe it is a mix of spices due to its name, but it is a standalone spice. It has cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove flavors, giving it spicy, citrusy, and floral notes.
As a cardamom substitute, allspice does best in desserts, soups, vegetables, and chutneys. It is also a great substitute for curries, meats, and fish. However, it can be pretty intense, so it is best to start with only half the amount you would cardamom and then increase as you see fit.
6. Coriander Seeds
Like cardamom, coriander seeds have a nutty aroma and spicy flavor with citrusy notes. Also similar to cardamom, you can use whole coriander seeds or ground coriander.
Coriander seeds are an excellent cardamom substitute when used as a spice in baked goods and other recipes. Ground coriander is the best way to go for recipes such as curries, soups, and stir-fries. When adding it to recipes, it is best to start with just a pinch and add more as needed.
In addition to having seeds that are very similar to cardamom, cumin has a spicy, peppery flavor that makes it a suitable cardamom substitute. The only downside about cumin is that it lacks the same sweetness and citrusy notes that cardamom has.
However, it is still an excellent substitute for savory dishes such as curries, meats, rice, soups, and vegetables. Because of its strong flavor, it is best to use just a tiny amount to start and increase as needed.
8. Apple Pie Spice
If you have apple pie spice in your pantry, you have an excellent cardamom substitute at your fingertips. Apple pie spice combines spices that can serve as standalone substitutes for cardamom, creating a perfect blend of flavors and aromas.
Apple pie spice is commonly made with a mixture of nutmeg, cinnamon, and allspice. It is also among the best substitutes for black cardamom.
It is ideal when used in sweet recipes but also goes well in curries and marinades. Since it is a pretty potent mixture, it is best to start with a 1:2 ratio or less and then add more as needed.
9. Pumpkin Spice
Pumpkin pie spice is another standalone spice that works well as a cardamom substitute. It is commonly made with a mixture of nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and clove, making for a spicy, sweet, and floral combination.
It works perfectly in dessert recipes. Start with 1:2 ratio or less and then add more as needed.
Like cardamom, galangal has a combination of earthy and citrusy aromas. However, it is very intense and packs a punch when it comes to aroma and flavor.
Galangal is best as a cardamom substitute in its powdered form for savory dishes such as soups, stews, meat dishes, and fish marinades. Because of its intensity, you only need to use it in a 1:4 ratio, increasing the amount as necessary.
11. Spice Mixtures
While the above standalone spices are a great option when replacing cardamom in your recipe, some are even better when combined with others! You can also use the following spice mixtures as cardamom substitutes, depending on your recipe:
Cinnamon + Cloves: Mix equal parts cinnamon and cloves (e.g., ½ teaspoon cinnamon + ½ teaspoon cloves) for curries, soups, stews, sauces, meats, vegetables, and seafood. This combination mimics cardamom the most!
Cinnamon + Nutmeg: Mix equal parts of each spice for baked desserts, soups, curries, and stews. Start with less than the recipe requires, then add more to taste.
Cinnamon + Ginger: Mix equal parts of each spice for savory recipes such as meat dishes and rice. Start with less than the recipe requires, then adjust to taste as needed.
Cumin + Coriander: Mix ½ teaspoon of cumin with one teaspoon of coriander for curries and meats.
Nutmeg + Cloves: Mix equal parts of each spice for savory recipes such as rice and meats.
So, which is the best?
As you can see, there is no shortage of spices and spice combinations when seeking a cardamom substitute. So which one is the best? Well, it depends.
Overall, the best replacements for cardamom are spices with the same aroma and flavor, such as allspice, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. However, some combination spices (such as cinnamon + clove) also mimic cardamom so closely that you won't be able to tell the difference.
At the end of the day, it depends on the recipe that you plan to make and the overall flavor profile that you want to achieve. In the following, I'll discuss which cardamom substitutes are best for specific dishes.
Best Cardamom Substitute for Baking
Not all cardamom substitutes are created equal when baking your favorite desserts, so don't reach for just any of the substitutes mentioned above!
Because of their similar flavor and aroma profiles, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice are the best substitutes for baking. To best recreate one teaspoon of cardamom for your baked goods, you will want to mix a ½ teaspoon of cinnamon and a ½ teaspoon of nutmeg or allspice.
Best Cardamom Substitute in Garam Masala
Garam Masala is a popular Indian spice blend that typically contains a mix of cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, coriander, cumin, and black pepper. If you are out of cardamom when making garam masala at home, you can recreate its taste and flavor by combining cumin and allspice berries in a 1:¼ ratio.
Best Cardamom Substitute in Chai Tea
If you need to replace the ground cardamom required for making chai tea, you can blend cinnamon, ginger, allspice, and black pepper in equal parts. This blend creates a deliciously bold and spicy blend similar to what cardamom provides.
Best Cardamom Substitute in Curry
For curries, the best cardamom substitute is a mixture of cumin and coriander in equal parts. The two spices are already common in curries, so adding more will add to the flavor while serving as a replacement for cardamom.
Cardamom Substitute FAQs
Ground cardamom helps to add warmth and depth to baked goods. It is common in baked goods such as cookies, bread, pies and cakes, and bread puddings.
It depends. If the recipe only calls for a small amount of cardamom (such as less than ½ teaspoon), you can omit it, and it won't make a big difference to the recipe. However, if it calls for a teaspoon of cardamom or more, it will significantly affect the recipe's flavor profile. In this case, it is better to substitute cardamom with another spice or a combination of spices to prevent flavor loss.
Allspice and cardamom are very similar in flavor and are often confused with one another. However, there is a very mild taste difference, although not enough to be noticeable.
In addition to the mild difference in taste, the difference between the two is how it is grown. Allspice is derived from the dried, unripe berries of the Pimenta dioica tree, whereas cardamom pods are harvested from various members of the ginger plant family.
Yes, you can substitute cardamom seeds for pods in the same recipe once you split the pods open to expose the seeds. Each cardamom pod contains approximately 8-16 cardamom seeds.
Yes, you can substitute ground cardamom for pods if it makes sense for the recipe. A rule of thumb for measuring is that there are six cardamom pods to each teaspoon of ground cardamom.
Yes! Cinnamon and cardamom have a similar aroma and flavor, so if your recipe calls for cinnamon, you can use cardamom in its place without drastically changing the flavor profile.
What can I use cardamom for in baking?
Cardamom is excellent in recipes that call for cinnamon or spicy, citrusy spices like allspice. Here are just a few recipes that use cardamom or that will taste absolutely delicious when you add cardamom to the mix!
The BEST Cardamom Substitute
Best cardamom substitute for baking
- ½ teaspoon Cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon Nutmeg
- To replace 1 teaspoon of cardamom mix ½ teaspoon of cinnamon with ½ teaspoon of nutmeg and use it 1:1 as a cardamom alternative
- Coriander Seeds
- Apple Pie Spice
- Pumpkin Spice
- Spice Mixtures