Nutmeg, cinnamon, apple pie spice, cloves, ginger, and allspice can be used as replacements, either individually or in combination with each other. While no substitute will exactly replicate cardamom’s unique flavor, these alternatives can come close and add complexity to your dishes. Adjust the quantities according to taste to avoid overpowering the dish with the substitute spice.
Cardamom, the queen of all spices, is the third most expensive spice in the world after saffron and vanilla. It has however become more affordable as its production has increased globally.
Cardamom’s unique flavor is versatile enough to pair perfectly in sweet and savory dishes, making it a great spice to have on hand.
Its spicy and floral potency features prominently in dishes. Leaving it out of a recipe will therefore be very noticeable. Omission just isn’t an option if you want to achieve the same fullness of flavor in your dish.
If you don’t have any cardamom on hand or need to replace it for another reason, there are some really easy alternatives you can use. No substitute for cardamom will mimic the exact flavor, but you can get pretty close, especially when combining different spices.
In this guide, we’ll help you pick the best substitutes for cardamom in any recipe.
Types of Cardamom
Cardamom is a seed pod that has a firm, papery outer covering and small black seeds on the inside. Green cardamom pods are the most commonly used type and pair well with sweet and savory flavors. The zesty spice is harvested before reaching maturity and then cured.
White cardamom is simply bleached green cardamom and is often used in desserts. It is sweet and somewhat less aromatic.
Brown or black cardamom is used to flavor meats. Black cardamom is harvested at maturity and dried which gives it a smoky and peppery characteristic. It is cheaper and more widely available than the other types. When a recipe calls for cardamom in general, they usually refer to the green type, unless otherwise specified.
Cardamom is popularly used in Indian, African, Scandinavian, and Middle Eastern cuisines in the form of cardamom seeds, ground as powder, or crushed pods. The spice plays a defining role in dishes such as Scandinavian julekake bread, Finnish pulla (sweet cardamom bread), Indian masala tea, and curries.
Ground Cardamom vs Cardamom Seeds
Cardamom is most potent when it is kept in the pod. The casing preserves the aromatic cardamom taste, whereas once the seeds are removed from the pod they lose some strength.
Pre-ground cardamom bought from a grocery store is the least effective. It is best to freshly grind your own seeds when possible.
If you need to substitute fresh cardamom pods for seeds or powder, follow the below guidelines.
1 teaspoon cardamom powder is interchangeable with:
- Half a teaspoon cardamom seeds (whole or freshly ground), or
- 6 cardamom pods
Best Cardamom Substitutes
Nutmeg can be purchased as a whole seed or in powder form. It has a slightly nutty tone with a similar flavor profile to cardamom. While cardamom comes from a herb, nutmeg, which is larger, grows on evergreen trees. Nutmeg can be used in powder form or grated finely into dishes.
For a great cardamom spice substitute combine nutmeg with cinnamon or cloves as follows:
Substitute quantity for 1 teaspoon cardamom: ½ tsp. ground nutmeg + ½ tsp. ground cloves
Best used with: Meat, rice, and savory recipes
Substitute quantity: ½ tsp. ground nutmeg + ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
Best used in: Sweetmeats and baked desserts
See more: Nutmeg substitutes
Cinnamon can be purchased in sticks that look like tree bark, or as a powder. It has a sweet and earthy taste and makes a suitable replacement for cardamom when combined with nutmeg, cloves, or ginger.
Replacement quantity for 1 teaspoon cardamom: ½ teaspoon each of ground ginger and ground cinnamon
Best used in: Sweet or savory dishes, desserts, sauces, and curry
Substitute quantity for 1 teaspoon cardamom: ½ teaspoon each of ground cloves and cinnamon
Best used in: Meaty dishes and stews
3. Apple Pie Spice
Apple pie spice is a delicious pre-blended mix of spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Some varieties of apple spice also include cardamom. Apple pie spice is delicious with sweeter vegetables such as sweet potato and in pies, desserts, cookies, and cakes.
Substitute quantity: Use equal parts of apple pie spice in place of cardamom
Cloves have a uniquely bold flavor and can be overpowering. They are shaped like small dark brown spikes or can be ground to a powder. When used as whole cloves during cooking they should be removed before serving your dish since biting into a whole clove will overtake any other flavor with peppery bitterness and slight numbing.
When using cloves as a cardamom replacement, blend it with other spices to even out the bitterness and balance a deep flavor complexity. Clove spice blends are ideal for savory and sweet dishes alike.
Substitute quantity for 1 teaspoon cardamom:
- ½ tsp. ground cinnamon + ½ tsp. ground cloves or
- ½ tsp. ground nutmeg + ½ tsp. ground cloves
Best used for: Meat dishes, curry, stew, tea and warm spiced drinks, spiced cakes, pies, and cookies.
See more: substitute for ground cloves
Ginger is a distant relative of cardamom with a floral zingy taste. The thick root can be bought fresh or in a dried powder form. If you cook with chunks of ginger in a stew or curry to infuse flavor, remove them before serving.
Alternatively use a powder form or paste that can be mixed into the rest of the ingredients.
Substitute quantity for 1 teaspoon cardamom: ½ tsp. ground ginger + ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
Best used in: Sweet or savory dishes, desserts, sauces, and curry
Allspice is made from the berries of an allspice tree, popular in Caribbean cuisine. The spice is similar to cardamom with slightly sweet, warm, and smoky undertones. It is generally available in a dried powder form, but can sometimes be purchased whole.
Substitute quantity for 1 teaspoon cardamom: ½ to 1 tsp. allspice powder (start with ½ teaspoon and add more if desired)
Best used in: Meat, rice, curry, fish dishes, warm spiced drinks, cakes, and desserts
Related: Substitute for allspice
Cardamom spice brings a complex flavor to dishes that is hard to replicate. Leaving it out of your recipe completely will however leave your dish lacking in flavor.
Pair up a few different spice combinations such as ginger, cloves, or nutmeg with equal parts cinnamon to give your dish the aromatic complexity when you don’t have any cardamom on hand.
As a simple fix, use apple spice instead since it already includes a combination of aromatic spices. Whichever substitute you choose, add a small amount to start and adjust according to taste to ensure that your spice blend does not overpower your dish.
*image by [email protected]/depositphotos