Cardamom – Give ‘em “Hel”

Cardamom pod & ground powder in silver Persian spoon and bowl  a basic Persian food ingredient

Cardamom is called “hel” in Persian

The other week I made a breakfast smoothie and a visiting friend suggested posting its recipe on Fig & Quince. “But it isn’t Persian food,” I protested. “Just add some saffron to it and call it Persian!” she quipped, which made us all laugh. “Saffron and cardamom,” I hastened to add.  After all, while saffron (gorgeous, glorious saffron) is the quintessential Persian spice, cardamom (under-the-radar and a bit of an unsung hero) is nearly as pivotal a spice in Persian cuisine.

Cardamom, called “hel” in Farsi (pronounced as if you’re going to say “Helen”) comes in small aromatic pods (white or green or black) containing tiny black seeds.  The aroma of cardamom is hard to describe, but it is nice and penetrating:  a mixture of clove, vanilla, and some other undefinable smell that is … just cardamom.

black cardamom and green cardamom as pods and also ground powder in bowls

Green & Black Cardamom pods

In Persian cooking, we use green or white cardamoms to make: moraba (jams), torshi-yeh-miveh (fruit pickles and preserves), shirini (pastry), bastani (ice cream), desserts, and sweet fragrant meals like khagineh (sugar omelet) and shir berenj (rice pudding.)  Cardamom is also one of the ingredients of advieh-yeh-polo (the mixed spice used for rice dishes.) Black cardamom pods are used almost exclusively for medicinal purposes, such as aiding digestion.  ( Black cardamom is also a natural breath freshener: one could chew the pod much like a chewing gum, seeds and all.  Fun fact: Cardamom seeds are one of the ingredients in Wrigley’s “Eclipse Breeze Exotic Mint”.)

If you don’t have any cardamom in your pantry do go ahead and stock up on some (best stored in pod-form because seeds and ground cardamom quickly lose their flavor) as here at Fig & Quince we’re gearing up to have a few cardamom-centric recipes coming your way pretty soon.

9 thoughts on “Cardamom – Give ‘em “Hel”

    • Hi sybaritica – In Persian cuisine, to the best of our knowledge (me and my mother), black cardamom is not used for cooking. Its scent and flavor is different than the green and white cardamom as you pointed out in your interesting and informative post and after reading it I’m curious to try out the simple recipe you posted. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  1. Looking forward to your recipes as I just love cardamom. And, have found 2 stores here (Halal, I think) selling lots of goodies, including the tiniest aubergine I’ve ever seen. Might try your last post later in the week.

    • Oh good, I’m so happy to hear that! You know, I wasn’t that keen on cardamom growing up and now I like it a lot. The tiny aubergines sound like they could be perfect for pickling – have you considered that? Not to push you, but do try yatimcheh, I would love to hear what you think/make of it.

      • I feel the same way! Not a big fan of the flavor when I was younger, but have recently enjoy it more. I made some chai chocolate truffles with it and they came out really good. Would love to try more recipes with it, so excited about this post!

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  5. I’m so happy to have discovered your site via Uncornered Market’s recent post on Persian food. When we were traveling in India, we became mildly addicted to cardamom; it’s been a challenge to find in some more spots of Europe but such a treat when we do. I enjoyed learning more about it here. :)

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