This spice, sold in whole pods, is, unlike it´s cousin green cardamom, an ugly bastard. On first sight quite a bit bigger and with a brown-blackish, wrinkled hard shell. One of it´s english nicknames “Bastard cardamom” is actually quite suiting when you compare appearance and flavor to it´s much more neat, elegant, subtle cousin, Mr Green.
Don´t let this fact frighten…
The black cardamom is not really a substitute for the green variety, but rather a spice of it´s own, with it´s own applications. It hails from the Himalayas and south China, but it is also grown in parts of Africa.
We´re talking about a unique scent, strong and overwhelming like something close to Tiger Balm. It releases a strong, varm smoky flavor, contributed to it´s drying over open fires. Combine this with earty tones, reminding of a thick forest in autumn, and you will be somewhat close.
The flavor that in it´s raw state is a concoction of strong mint-like tones, the sensation of volatile substances, with the fine smokiness (which reminds of tobacco and liquorice), a slight acidity and even hints of the green cardamom - while cooking it may take the sharp edge off and instead leave room for less pungent perfumes of cinnamon and newly cut tree.
Widely used in the indian cuisine, in rustic dishes and spicy mixes. It has an almost magical way of marrying withother spices and together bring forth new tones of sublime spicyness. It´s in fact hard to overdose.
Example of uses are tomato based soups and sauces, where it brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes. Of course also curries where it fits well in together with the many other spices.
Also used in rice, it gives a lovely smokiness.
Why not try it to make a spicy herbal tea?
It´s intimidating rough look may prevent some, less experimental cooks, from using it or even buying it. But my tip is - give it a go. There´s nothing to loose, who knows, maybe you´ll even find a new best friend in this bombastic spice.