Cardamom’s flavor is simultaneously spicy and floral while also offering citrus and herbal notes. To put it mildly, it is a potent and versatile spice. Its versatility can be seen in the fact that it is used in many cuisines around the world as well as the fact that it is used in both sweet and savory applications. It is a staple flavor in Indian cuisine as well as in Scandinavian dishes.
That popularity is one reason that you should try to keep some on hand. However, it is important to note that cardamom is expensive. How expensive? It is the world’s third most expensive spice with a price that is surpassed only by vanilla and saffron.
There are several reasons that you may need a substitute for cardamom such as being put off by the cost or because you are cooking for someone with an allergy. The good news is that you have options. The even better news is that you most likely have most of the options in your spice cabinet.
Note that due to cardamom’s potency, omission in a dish where it’s called for is not an option. The stronger a spice’s flavors, the more noticeable its absence will be.
Your best bet: Cloves and cinnamon
Because of how complex cardamom’s flavor is, your best option for a cardamom alternative is going to be a combination of two other potent and complex spices. The astringent intensity of cloves paired with the sweet woodiness of cinnamon can effectively mimic many of the flavor notes found in cardamom. This cardamom substitute is recommended for use in meat and seafood dishes. In order to replace 1 teaspoon of cardamom, you will use half a teaspoon each of these two spices.
A second decent choice: Cinnamon and nutmeg
Again, we have a cardamom substitute with two strong and complex flavors. Much like the first alternative, this mix of cardamom and nutmeg is recommended for use in savory dishes such as those that feature rice and meat. You will also be using a 1/2 teaspoon of each spice to replace a single teaspoon of cardamom.
In a pinch: Cinnamon or nutmeg
Both cinnamon and nutmeg are each widely recommended as cardamom substitutes. Cinnamon is the most popular of the two for use as a standalone cardamom replacement; however, nutmeg is still a popular and relatively inexpensive alternative. When using either of these spices in place of cardamom, it is recommended that you start with half the amount of the spice that your recipe requires and adjust the quantity to taste.
Aside from cinnamon and nutmeg, there are other spices that can be effective individual replacements for cardamom. For example, some experts recommend using allspice. As with cinnamon and nutmeg, you would halve the recipe’s cardamom amount for the replacement. If the recipe calls for a teaspoon of cardamom, use a teaspoon of allspice instead. Ginger can also be used as can coriander.
Most recipes that include cardamom mean green cardamom. Black cardamom is another spice entirely but can be used as a replacement for green cardamom in some applications. Due to black cardamom’s smoky flavor, it should only be used in savory dishes.