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What exactly do the spices cardamom and coriander taste like?

BGV91 Jan 22, 2011 12:19 AM

I am planning out my wedding cake, and wanted to make a delicious vanilla spice cake however I wanted to do something special to take it up a notch. I have been doing some research, and quite a few recipes suggest cardamom, and coriander; however I do not have any experience with these spices.
Does anyone have an exact description of what they taste like? Has anyone ever used them in desserts before,and if so how did the dish turn out?

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  1. g
    gordeaux Jan 22, 2011 04:47 AM

    I don't prefer cardamom and coriander in my sweets, I mostly prefer themin savory foods. Heavily prevalent in Indian cooking. I'd suggest you make something as a trial first. Only your taste buds will be able to describe the flavor. My in laws ALL love cardamom in their sweets. You really need to try something for yourself.

    1. n
      NicoleFriedman Jan 22, 2011 05:56 AM

      I happen to love cardamom. Some people think it tastes like fennel but I believe it has its own unique flavor. I love corriander (the spice from the same plant as cilantro) which is slightly citrussy, but I wouldn't think to put it in a dessert (my personal taste). First off, it's your wedding cake so you should put in flavors you enjoy. Try them both; don't go by opinions on CH.
      That being said, from personal planning experience, while in an ideal world your wedding would just be about you, you also have to consider the family if you want to "keep the peace". If I served a wedding cake with cardamom, my mom would have a fit. It just wouldn't even be worth it to consider:}

      2 Replies
      1. re: NicoleFriedman
        magiesmom Jan 22, 2011 06:13 AM

        I love cardamom in cakes, but you really need to taste for yourself . I hate fennel, so it must not taste like fennel. Buy some and smell and taste is the only way.

        1. re: magiesmom
          momnivore Jan 22, 2011 10:13 AM

          I agree. I HATE fennel but LOVE cardamom. If you've ever had chai tea its one of the predominant flavors (other than cinnamon). I like cardamom in teas and in desserts - we use it a lot in Persian cooking. But I don't know about coriander for a desserts - I've never heard of it (not to say it isn't done, I've just never tried it).

      2. MGZ Jan 22, 2011 06:49 AM

        I am not particularly fond of sweets and generally find wedding cake to be the insult to injury that is the dining experience at a wedding. I. however, love the idea of a spiced wedding cake. Scandinavians employ cardamom and coriander in their cuisine (and booze), both savory and sweet, showing that those spices have an appeal much beyond their native Southern Asia.

        Cardamom is deep and earthy in flavor, sharp, spicy with a crisp hint of sweet. I do not ascribe the anise notes of fennel seeds to it, but they are employed together sometimes and quite complimentary. The following description is pretty good:


        Coriander seeds are fragrant and floral with discernable citrus notes. They are from the same plant as coriander leaves (cilantro) but they do not share much by way of flavors.

        As I said, a spiced wedding cake sounds great to me. The fact that these spices are traditional digestifs is part of their appeal. It’s your wedding, your “Garden Party,” and since “you can’t please everyone, you got to please yourself.” (Yeah, Ricky Nelson, I did it . . . )

        1. j
          julesrules Jan 22, 2011 07:00 AM

          I like cardamom in sweets, in balance with other spices. I add to just about any baked good that calls for cinnamon, along with nutmeg, cloves, etc. I don't like it when the cardamom is totally overwhelming, because all I can think is "chai tea mix". In fact, that's one easy way for you try a sweet flavoured with cardamom: go to Starbucks or the like and try a chai tea latte. You can also make chai tea at home with whole cardomom, cloves etc - I find this comes out more balanced in flavour than the commercial preparations. You may actually find that cardamom is quite familiar to you, if you've had chai tea, Indian sweets, or Scandanavian pastries.
          I think coriander is less common in sweets, it's not something I've run into myself.
          If I were you I would actually experiment with a basic vanilla cake/cupcake recipe and add different spices & combos thereof. Sounds like fun to me!

          1. Caroline1 Jan 22, 2011 09:56 AM

            I use both regularly and in ways that I very much enjoy. That's no guarantee you would enjoy them too. I urge you to go to the store, try them out for yourself and then make up your mind. There is no substitute for experience.

            1. Jay F Jan 22, 2011 10:33 AM

              Places that make wedding cakes will let you taste their cakes before you make a selection. Tell them beforehand you're interested in each of these two flavors.

              I had a piece of raspberry/blackberry coffee cake last week that tasted like 1/2 C. of dirt had been part of the recipe. It turned out to be cardamom mixed in with the fruit topping. It wasn't so bad I stopped eating the cake, but I would have liked it better without.

              1. ipsedixit Jan 22, 2011 10:43 AM

                Taste them for yourself. That's the only way to figure out if you will like the way they taste.

                If you asked me, coriander tastes like, well, coriander. And cardamom tastes exactly like cardamom.

                10 Replies
                1. re: ipsedixit
                  Vetter Jan 22, 2011 03:16 PM

                  +1. It's a cheap investment - go make yourself some spiced goodies.

                  1. re: ipsedixit
                    Ruth Lafler Jan 23, 2011 09:05 AM

                    Yes, tastes can't be described, they have to be experienced. In addition, a lot of people either love or hate cardamom, so you really need to taste it for yourself. I think it would be great in a cake -- coriander not so much.

                    1. re: Ruth Lafler
                      MGZ Jan 23, 2011 10:06 AM

                      I absolutely agree that there is no substitute for experiencing a taste (or, frankly most anything visceral). I do, however, think that is possible to describe tastes and that it can be helpful to do so. Although food geeks generally do not have an agreed upon vocabulary for doing so the way oenophiles do, I think it is worth trying.

                      I mean, even if I said cardamom was the crimson-streaked purple sky of sunset after a summer storm while coriander was the warming, orange-tinted sunlight of a late fall morning, I think I am still conveying some usable information regarding taste expectations. Or perhaps, cardamom is the bassoon in the spice orchestra?

                      1. re: MGZ
                        Ruth Lafler Jan 24, 2011 08:24 AM

                        I think, though, that different people taste in different ways. For example, cardamom tastes citrusy to me, but that's not how I see other people describing it.

                        1. re: Ruth Lafler
                          lilgi Jan 24, 2011 10:20 AM

                          I think you are the only other person that has described this spice as Citrusy. I've always described it as "lemony" and yet other descriptions are so different. I'm in total agreement with your description, yet so many compare it to cinnamon. Honestly to me there is no resemblance, I sense a "tang" in cadamom, and "heat" in cinnamon.

                          Edit: In the Union Square Cafe cookbook, the authors speak of cardamom as the predominant taste in graham crackers.

                          Coriander is a flavor that lingers for me, so I tend to use less of it.

                          1. re: lilgi
                            Ruth Lafler Jan 24, 2011 02:52 PM

                            I've compared it to cinnamon, in that I think it can be used in many of the same ways (unlike, for example, coriander). I subbed cardamom one-for-one with cinnamon in a cinnamon teacake recipe and it turned out great. But do they taste anything alike? No way.

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler
                              lilgi Jan 25, 2011 09:38 AM

                              I've heard of people substituting one for the other but never tried it since they taste so different to me. What I Have done in the past is substitute Chinese 5 spice powder on some recipes where cinnamon is required.

                              I should definitely try subbing cardamom for cinnamon in a few of mine since I prefer cardamom.

                              My post above about coriander is incorrect, the spice that lingers too much for me is "cumin" and in writing, I tend to interchange them for some reason. Coriander I consider very citrusy as well but never tried it in any sweets. I don't know if I'd be opposed to trying it though.

                              1. re: lilgi
                                Ruth Lafler Jan 25, 2011 10:05 AM

                                You might want to try this recipe, subbing the cardamom for cinnamon: http://buttersugarflour.com/2007/11/c...

                                1. re: Ruth Lafler
                                  lilgi Jan 25, 2011 10:16 AM

                                  Looks good! I'll give it a try soon.

                            2. re: lilgi
                              queenscook Jan 30, 2011 07:33 AM

                              I, too (three?!), think of cardamom as lemony. I love it, and add it to any cake recipe that calls for cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. The banana cake I make with it is amazing (if I do say so myself).

                    2. i
                      Isolda Jan 22, 2011 12:44 PM

                      Definitely taste them for yourself. Buy them at an Indian grocery so you don't have to pay $11.99 for a 2 ounce bottle of cardamom. I love them both and especially like cardamom in sweet things, such as shortbread. To me, cardamom tastes like a tangy, bright cinnamon and coriander tastes like a lemony, very mild parsley. I love fennel, too, but don't think it's even close to either of these tastes.

                      Others will scream "Is she nuts?" so go buy some spices and taste them.

                      1. r
                        redfish62 Jan 22, 2011 12:48 PM

                        They taste like pumpkin pie that has been buried in the ground for 203 years

                        1. pikawicca Jan 22, 2011 12:51 PM

                          I think that simple syrup infused with cardamom and coriander would be splendid brushed on vanilla cake layers. Going a step further, I would try a vanilla buttercream lightly flavored with rose water.

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: pikawicca
                            Caitlin McGrath Jan 22, 2011 02:21 PM

                            Your suggestion calls to mind this Persian Love Cake, which I have always intended to bake, with cardamom in the cake and saffron and rose water in the whipped cream frosting.


                            1. re: Caitlin McGrath
                              pikawicca Jan 22, 2011 02:34 PM

                              That's extremely appealing. I'm always looking for desserts to serve after a Lebanese feast. This would fill the bill.

                              1. re: Caitlin McGrath
                                Isolda Jan 22, 2011 03:15 PM

                                You cannot go wrong making that cake. It's delicious!

                                1. re: Caitlin McGrath
                                  JungMann Jan 24, 2011 10:07 AM

                                  That's a terrific cake. I make it every Easter as it's a good end to all the Middle Eastern flavors from our lamb.

                              2. alanbarnes Jan 22, 2011 02:12 PM

                                How the spices smell or taste individually is no indication of how they're going to taste in the finished cake. Coriander seed especially has a bit of a funky, fetid odor that IMO is unpleasant by itself. But mix it with other spices and put it into a finished dish and it adds great warmth and depth.

                                That said, cardamom and coriander are classic ingredients in spice cakes and other desserts. In the right proportion, working with the right other ingredients, they'll be great.

                                But I'd find a recipe that looks good, then whip up a standard-sized cake or a batch of cupcakes to see how you like it. Seriously, you don't want to find out that it doesn't work for you - or worse, doesn't work at all - in the middle of your reception.

                                +1 on isolda's recipe to buy the spices in bulk at an Indian grocery (preferably whole; you can easily grind them yourself in a coffee grinder). The downside is you'll have to buy at least four ounces of each; the upside is that those four ouces will probably cost less than a jar that holds a fraction of an ounce from the supermarket. And because of turnover, the spices will likely be fresher, too.

                                1. ursy_ten Jan 22, 2011 03:31 PM

                                  Yep, I'd do a test run of the recipe, definitely. If it's for something as important as your wedding it would be worth a test run.

                                  I made hot cross buns with caradamom in them last Easter. It was nice, and interesting... but I think I will stick to the more traditional recipes from now. I don't think there was any way anyone could have described the taste to me beforehand, I had to try it for myself. It's like, how do you explain blue to a blind man?

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: ursy_ten
                                    Cathy Jan 22, 2011 03:58 PM

                                    I think cardamom tastes better in a bread than in a cake. A traditional Finnish 'coffee bread' (like coffee cake, but a sweet/egg/buttery bread), called pulla, is made with cardamom. So, putting cardamom in Hot Cross Buns gives that effect...

                                    Definitely try the recipe first. Buy white or green whole cardamom pods at the Indian market. Don't buy powdered cardamom- that has the pod shells ground into it. Pop the small seeds out of the pods and grind with a mortar and pestle.

                                    1. re: Cathy
                                      lhamo55 Jan 28, 2011 09:53 AM

                                      Experimenters should go with the more lightly scented (perfumed?) green cardamom, rather than the camphorous and sometimes overpowering gummy black stuff which requires understanding of its flavor profile to use skillfully. I also buy my green cardamom pods from Indian or Middle Eastern groceries. I add one or two pods along with coffee beans in the grinder - hot or cold brewed, black or not, quite nice. I too occasionally make simple cardamom syrup, sometimes adding a vanilla pod as it cools. Must give rose a try. Have also simply added a few green pods to the almond milk (soy and lactose sensitivities) container upon opening and refrigeration; good on cereal and tea. Did I mention I like cardamom? Oh and chewing a green pod freshens the breath.

                                  2. n
                                    neel2004 Jan 23, 2011 02:19 AM

                                    I wouldn't put cardamom or coriander in your cake -- its a flavor that people love or completely hate.

                                    Cardamom has a slightly bitter, floral flavor to it -- kind of reminscent of lavender if done right. However, I know several people that do not react well to its taste.

                                    Coriander is the seed of the cilantro plant, and kind of has a muted cilantro flavor, but it is also quite different. I use it a lot in savory dishes, but cannot imagine it in a sweet application. Last year, there was a study that proved that there is a genetic link as to why some people like cilantro and some people hate it and think it tastes soapy and oily.

                                    I would put neither in a wedding cake, because if some of the guests are predisposed to not liking these flavors, the cake would be pretty horrible for them.

                                    If you have an Indian store near you, both can be purchased very cheaply there. Most labels are in English, but cardamon may be labeled Elachi, and coriander as Hara Dhania.

                                    There are two types of cardamom typically available -- black and green. Black has a stronger flavor to me, but some seem to prefer one or the other.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: neel2004
                                      alanbarnes Jan 24, 2011 10:16 AM

                                      If there's enough coriander in a cake to taste it distinctly, it's probably too much. A spice cake should have a subtle blend of flavors. And a little cardamom and coriander will add depth and complexity to the cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves that are likely more predominant.

                                    2. babette feasts Jan 23, 2011 10:29 AM

                                      To me, coriander in cake makes the cake taste like froot loops. This may be a good or bad thing for you.

                                      1. Scrofula Jan 23, 2011 09:45 PM

                                        Green cardamom is great in sweets. Goes well with dairy and/or nuts. You'll find some in pretty much any Indian dairy-based dessert. I remember drinking cartons of sweetened cardamom-milk as a kid in India; it was as common as chocolate milk. It's easy to try it; just get a bag of cardamom pods from your nearest Indian grocery and break one open with your teeth.

                                        I don't think I've ever tried coriander in a sweet. It seems like an inherently savory spice to me.

                                        1. k
                                          kathleen440 Jan 24, 2011 10:31 AM

                                          Cardamom tastes like menthol, but milder and sweeter. Coriander tastes like lemon pepper - it isn't hot (spicy) but definitely has a little bit of "zing" to it. But you might want to taste them yourself.

                                          1. Karl S Jan 24, 2011 03:33 PM

                                            The only valid way is for you to get some and use them.

                                            1. PattiCakes Jan 28, 2011 10:39 AM

                                              Cardamom is an under note you will taste very often in chai. It is also used in Indian cooking; a few cardamom pods are often put in with the Basmati rice as it cooks. It's also used in scandanavian cakes. You can buy it in most grocery stores whole (in the pod) or ground. An easy was to taste it is to buy a small container of the ground cardamom & put a pinch in something like oatmeal. Or make a pound cake & put a little in. Here's what Penzy's says about it: http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzey...

                                              I do not associate coriander with cake.

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