What’s the difference between white cardamom and green cardamom, I wondered?

Now that I’ve settled into my new River Market home, I have re-established routines like food shopping and cooking. I have also taken stock of my pantry, including the over-stuffed plastic bin of spices I have accumulated over the years. While digging around in my bin, I pulled out small bags of green cardamom and white cardamom. I prefer buying whole spices for use in cooking, grinding or shaving them into powder if need be.

Green cardamom seeds


Green cardamom seed pods are oval-shaped like pepitas. The hard outer shell is easily cracked and reveals dark seeds encased in a thin, papery skin. As a spice, the whole seed initially tastes sweet and finishes with peppery and bitter notes. The bold aroma is woodsy, resinous and sharp when the spice is dried. The scent softens into a warm, inviting perfume when cooked.

Whole green cardamom is an aromatic spice well-suited for use in autumn and winter foods and beverages. I use it year-round with cinnamon sticks, black peppercorns, fresh ginger, clove and other spices to make a strong brew of chai. When I get bored of drinking iced or hot green or black tea, homemade chai offers an added kick of flavor and aroma. After brewing, I like to extract the whole softened green cardamom pods, suck out the rich chai flavors and chew on the softened seeds. Cardamom is apparently good for digestion.

Green cardamom is used often in Indian cooking. I add whole cardamom to sweetened rice pudding or a vanilla crème Anglaise for dessert once in a while. It can also be used with curry, lentils, duck, chicken, rice and squash as well as breads and desserts.


White cardamom pods

White cardamom seeds


The bag of white cardamom seed pods in the bin went untouched until my recent move. I bought it on a whim while shopping at Kim Long located a couple blocks east of the City Market. White cardamom, it turns out, is simply bleached green cardamom. The type I purchased was round rather than oval and didn’t resemble green cardamom at all. The short, stubby pods also contained brown seeds encased in thin skin. The aroma and flavor isn’t nearly as pungent as the green variety. I found the taste to be more bitter, peppery and harshly concentrated with little sweetness when I ate it straight. It also has a slightly more medicinal menthol aroma.

I’ll experiment with making different test batches of chai using green and white cardamom separately, but suspect that I’ll probably wind up combining them for future use and just stick with green cardamom in the future.

Black cardamom, which I have resisted purchasing, has a smoky flavor and aroma that comes from the drying method as I have learned from some quick online research. Rather than sweet dishes, this version of the spice is better suited to meaty dishes and stews, or even in Vietnamese pho.