Cardamom is a widely used spice in Swedish food. It is used to scent doughs, add flavour to poaching liquids and as a flavouring in drinks. Apparently the Scandinavians are second only to the Arabs in their hunger for cardamom!

How does it grow?

Green cardamom pods growing on a plant

Cardamom is a large leafy plant that flourishes in tropical climates. It is a perennial plant and a member of the ginger family. The pods are harvested from the plant and then dried.

Green vs. Black cardamom

There are two main types of cardamom plant which produce either green or black pods.

Green cardamom adds a lovely floral note to dishes as it has a sweet taste with overtones of lemon and eucalyptus. Swedish recipes nearly always use green cardamom, which is added for its floral scent.

Black cardamom is often seen as an inferior cousin to the green pods, but this is not really true. Black cardamom is harvested much later than its green counterpart and has a more pungent flavour. It also has a smokey flavour, because it is normally dried over a fire pit, and this makes it popular for certain Indian dishes, but inappropriate for use in sweet doughs and cakes.

White cardamom

When cardamom was first imported into Sweden it had to survive a long sea journey which led to a long exposure to sun, salt and air. This bleached the pods white and slightly altered the flavor of the seeds. For a time some Swedes developed a liking for the pale coloured pods and so some very old recipes specified white cardamom pods, in other words bleached green cardamom pods.

These days most people consider that the bleaching process destroys much of the flavour and so they have now fallen out of favour. Indeed, I don't know of any suppliers of white cardamom in the UK or in Sweden, although I believe there are still some in the States.


Green cardamom is the world's third most expensive spice by weight (after saffron and vanilla), but fortunately very little is needed to impart flavour and unopened pods keep well.

Pods vs. ready ground

A packet of cardamom

In Sweden, where there is a much higher demand for cardamom, it is easy to buy little packets of cardamom seeds. Once opened these should be stored in an airtight jar and used within a week or two.

Green cardamom pods broken open

Most supermarkets in the UK only sell green cardamom pods. These are are easy to crack open to reveal the little black and brown seeds.

Ground cardamom seeds

Discard the shells and grind the seeds using a pestle and mortar until you can't be bothered anymore! You will need the seeds from about 2 teaspoons of pods to produce 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom.

Cardamom muffins

A tray of cardamom muffins

I've spent a long time working on this recipe, until I think it is perfect! The muffins are light and fluffy, have wonderful golden mounds and the taste is spot on, with a perfect balance of cardamom, bilberries (wild blueberries) and lime. Using demerara sugar helps with the texture, flavour and the colour, whilst the use of buttermilk and lime gives a gentle hint of acidity without making the muffins too sour. I don't think you will find a better recipe for cardamom muffins anywhere! More…

A pickling spice

Cardamom used in pickling mackerel

Cardamom is sometimes used in pickling spices as with the inlagd makrill med rödbetssallad (pickled mackerel with beetroot salad) shown above.

Flavouring poaching liquids

Cardamom used to flavour a plums

Cardamom is an excellent addition to a poaching liquid and goes especially well with plums. More…

Scenting doughs

Blueberry buns

Swedish bakers are big users of cardamom to scent their doughs such as for blåbärsbullar (blueberry buns) and in semlor (Lenten buns).

Ice cream

A dish of cardamom ice cream

Cardamom ice cream is wonderful: rich, creamy, easy to make and easy to scoop. The taste is very Swedish and it goes well with apples, berries, pancakes and waffles, as well as being delicious on its own. More…

Flavouring drinks

Two glasses of glögg

Cardamom is often used as a flavouring in drinks such as glögg (mulled wine).

John Duxbury

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