Cardamom powder is a beloved spice used in many cuisines around the world. Its unique flavor profile - sweet, spicy, floral and citrusy all at once - makes it irreplaceable in some recipes. However, cardamom can also be quite expensive and not always easy to find.
When you don't have cardamom powder on hand or want a more budget-friendly alternative, there are a few suitable spices and spice blends to use in its place. The key is finding options that replicate some of the complexity of cardamom without completely changing the dish.
Cardamom Powder 101
Before diving into the substitutes, let's first look at what exactly cardamom powder is and what makes its flavor so distinct.
What is Cardamom Powder?
Cardamom comes from the seeds of plants in the ginger family Zingiberaceae. The seeds are removed from the cardamom pods, dried and ground into a fine powder.
There are two main varieties:
- Green cardamom - Also called true cardamom. Most commonly used type. Has a floral, sweet and slightly spicy flavor. Used in both sweet and savory dishes.
- Black cardamom - Has a smokier, more pungent flavor. Better for savory dishes than sweets.
Cardamom Powder Flavor and Uses
Cardamom powder has an intensely aromatic flavor. It is:
- Sweet - With hints of honey and vanilla
- Spicy - Subtle heat and pepperiness
- Citrusy - Bright, zesty notes like lemon and orange
- Floral - Perfumey, reminiscent of roses
This complex blend of flavors means cardamom can enhance both sweet and savory recipes:
- Baked goods - Cakes, cookies, pastries
- Hot drinks - Chai tea, coffee
- Desserts - Ice cream, puddings
- Curries and stews
- Rice and pilafs
- Roasted vegetables and meats
- Marinades and rubs
Why Substitute Cardamom Powder?
There are two main reasons you may need a replacement for cardamom powder:
1. You don't have it on hand - Cardamom is not a common pantry staple. You go to use it and realize you're out.
2. The cost - Cardamom is one of the world's most expensive spices by weight. Finding an affordable substitute can save money.
When you need a quick cardamom powder swap-in, having a few suitable stand-ins ready makes it easy.
Best Cardamom Powder Substitutes
Cinnamon is often one of the first recommendations for replacing cardamom powder. While not an exact match, cinnamon does replicate some of cardamom's warmth and sweetness.
It works best in baked goods, coffee, tea, and other sweeter applications. Use an equal amount of cinnamon in place of cardamom powder.
Nutmeg is another baking spice that contains subtle cardamom-esque notes. It has a faint citrusy quality along with warmth.
Use an equal amount of freshly grated nutmeg when substituting for cardamom powder. Pre-ground nutmeg loses flavor quickly.
Ginger lacks some of the sweetness of cardamom but mimics the spiciness. It also contains zesty, lemon-like flavors.
For best results, use freshly grated ginger. Replace cardamom powder 1:1 with ground ginger. Reduce the amount if using fresh ginger.
True to its name, allspice tastes like a blend of spices - most prominently cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. This combination makes it a great stand-in for cardamom's complexity.
Use ground allspice in equal amounts when swapping it for cardamom powder.
5. Apple Pie Spice
Warm, gently sweet apple pie spice is made up of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. With all the individual spices that work on their own, this blend is an ideal substitute.
Replace cardamom powder 1:1 with apple pie spice.
6. Pumpkin Pie Spice
Pumpkin pie spice contains the same components as apple pie spice - cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and allspice. It too mimics much of cardamom's flavor nuance.
Use pumpkin pie spice in equal amounts to the cardamom powder called for.
In addition to singular spices, certain combinations offer a more well-rounded cardamom-like flavor.
Cinnamon and Ginger
Cinnamon brings sweetness and warmth. Ginger provides spiciness and citrusy notes. Together they form a more balanced cardamom-esque blend.
Use 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon and ginger to replace 1 teaspoon cardamom powder.
Cinnamon and Cloves
Cloves add a punch of heat and pungency that complements cinnamon's sweet woodiness. This works great in savory Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.
Combine 1/2 teaspoon each of cinnamon and ground cloves as a substitute for 1 teaspoon cardamom powder.
Cinnamon and Allspice
Pairing cinnamon with allspice gives you a mixture of sweet and savory with cardamom overtones. This blend brings out warm flavors in recipes.
Simply use equal parts cinnamon and allspice as an easy swap.
Best Cardamom Powder Substitutes for Different Recipes
Certain cardamom powder stand-ins work better in specific recipes depending on the flavor profiles involved.
When it comes to baked goods like cakes, cookies and pastries, you want spices that complement cardamom's sweetness.
- Apple pie spice
- Pumpkin pie spice
For every teaspoon of cardamom powder, use:
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon OR
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon + 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg OR allspice
Curries and Stews
In savory dishes, spices with more warmth and depth make suitable replacements for cardamom's complexity.
- Cinnamon + ginger
- Cinnamon + cloves
- Garam masala
Try these combos for every 1 tsp cardamom powder:
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon + 1/2 tsp ginger
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon + 1/2 tsp cloves
- 1 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp garam masala
Drinks - Tea, Coffee, Lattes
For hot beverages, you want spices that subtly complement the ingredients without overpowering.
Use these in equal amounts to the ground cardamom:
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp ginger powder
- 1 tsp apple pie spice
Tips for Using Cardamom Substitutes
When using replacements for cardamom powder, keep these tips in mind:
- Start with less spice than the recipe calls for cardamom then adjust to taste. Substitutes tend to be more potent.
- Cloves, nutmeg, ginger and cinnamon can overpower dishes easily. Use a light hand when seasoning.
- Grind whole spice substitutes like cinnamon sticks and allspice berries to maximize flavor.
- Look for cinnamon and nutmeg in stick or whole form instead of pre-ground when possible.
- Combine spices like cinnamon and ginger to get closer to the complexity of cardamom.
- Stick to sweet spices like cinnamon and allspice for baked goods and desserts for best results.
- Savory spices like cloves and garam masala work better in curries, stews and similar dishes.
With so many spices and blends mimicking some essence of cardamom, you're bound to find a combination that suits your needs. Get creative mixing and matching substitutes to bring new dimensions of flavor to recipes when cardamom powder isn't on hand.
Frequently Asked Questions
What's the best cardamom powder substitute for baking?
For baking recipes like cakes, cookies and breads, the best substitutes for cardamom powder are cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, apple pie spice, and pumpkin pie spice. Cinnamon and nutmeg paired together tend to give the closest flavor.
Can I use garam masala as a substitute for cardamom?
Yes, garam masala works as a substitute in savory Indian dishes that would typically include cardamom powder. Since cardamom is normally one of the components of garam masala, using the blend in place of cardamom alone mimics some of the flavors.
Is ground ginger a good replacement for cardamom powder?
Ground ginger is not an exact match, but it does replicate some of the spicy, citrusy notes of cardamom. Ginger works best combined with a warming spice like cinnamon. Use 1/2 tsp each ginger and cinnamon for every 1 tsp cardamom powder.
What spices make a good homemade cardamom powder substitute?
You can make your own cardamom-like spice blend at home with spices like cinnamon, ginger, allspice, nutmeg and cloves. Some examples are 1 tsp cinnamon + 1/2 tsp ginger or 1/2 tsp cinnamon + 1/2 tsp allspice + 1/4 tsp nutmeg. Tailor the blend to your tastes.
Can I use whole spices instead of cardamom powder?
Yes, whole spices like cinnamon sticks, allspice berries, whole nutmeg and whole cloves can infuse recipes with cardamom-esque flavor. Use about 6-8 whole spices in place of 1 tsp ground cardamom. Crush or grind them to release the most flavor. Remove before serving.
Adding cardamom powder to dishes provides a unique sweet, spicy and citrusy aromatic quality. When you don't have any on hand, or want a cheaper alternative, substitutes like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger come close to mimicking its flavor.
Spice blends containing some of the same components as cardamom, like apple pie spice and garam masala, make easy substitutions as well. Mixing warming spices together, for instance cinnamon and cloves, gives a more balanced cardamom-like taste too.
The next time a recipe calls for cardamom powder that you don't have, try swapping in one of these affordable stand-ins instead. With so many spices and combinations to work with, you can certainly come close to replicating the flavor and aroma cardamom provides.