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Cooking with whole spices

Hello all
I cooked a lovely dish of Chicken in Whole Aromatic Spices from "India Cookbook" for dinner last night and while we definitely enjoyed it my partner got a mouthful of whole green cardamom and it wasn't very pleasant.
I love cooking with spices, and I am familiar with the fact that whole spices are often roasted or fried in Indian cuisine, but situations like last night can be a bit frustrating. The recipe didn't stipulate that you shoudl remove the whole spices but I decided to do so since there were so many of them (12 whole green cardamom, 2 cloves, and 2 bay leaves). I was able to get them all out but couldn't find that twelfth cardamom pod. I decided to plate for the two of us and warned my partner there was a rogue cardamom pod.
I suppose my question is, do any of you have a lot of experience with Indian cooking, do you always remove your whole spices or do you just leave them in and try and eat around them.
I have considered putting them into a little cheesecloth bouquet garni style but I worry this wouldn prevent them from imparting their lovely flavour to my dish.
Any thoughts and thanks in advance all.

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  1. Most indians don't remove the spices. I think we all know in the back of our minds that there will be whole spices in a dish and to eat carefully, casually looking at each bite before eating it to make sure we don't get a clove or something. LOL :)

    1. Don't remove, just push to the side on your plate. Easier done if you are eating with your fingers, but just as easy with a spoon or fork. I have heard of people using a ball shaped tea strainer, though I don't know if they are able to fry the spices properly that way.

      2 Replies
      1. re: luckyfatima

        I fry my whole spices and then use the tea stringer thingy. Works very well.

        1. re: luckyfatima

          Luckyfatima, I think we Indians are just conditioned to look for whole spices when eating! I also don't understand the cheesecloth/strainer thing... I fry my whole spices and then add in my onions to fry, and the spices permeate the onions. Sometimes I puree the onions after frying instead of before -- I can't imagine try to fish out all my cardamom and cloves and peppercorns from hot fried onions!

        2. I never remove them, we just push to the side of the plate as others posted. We also serve family style so oftentimes we just avoid the larger ones like cinnamon sticks when serving ourselves. It's never been a big deal.

          1. Left in and eaten around. Just make sure people know.

            1. Chiming in with the others to say the spices are usually left in. I sympathize with your partner since, growing up on my father's Pakistani cookery, I also detested biting into cardamom or, far worse, a whole clove.

              1. I am newish to Indian cooking, and I wondered the same thing. Thanks to all the replies.

                When at home, I always just warn Mr. dk "5 cardamom, 6 cloves". He goes through his whole plate with a flashlight and his reading glasses to pull out the spices (he just hates biting into a cardamom pod). I just eat carefully. It is especially challenging when there are garbanzo beans in the dish, since swollen cardamom looks remarkably like a garbanzo bean.

                I make a pulao that has whole spices, and once took it to a potluck. Since I wasn't going to be able to warn everyone, and it was a crowd that wouldn't be used to the concept, I fried the spices, then put the cloves and cardamom in a cheesecloth bag (like a bouquet garni), leaving the "edible" stuff like cumin seed out, as well as the obvious stuff like cinnamon stick. Then I fished it out before serving. It detracted from the flavor, and was kind of a pain, but sort of worked.

                1 Reply
                1. re: dkenworthy

                  Yes, agree with you, dk--we leave spices in, just us eating, but if we have company, I use a single layer of cheesecloth for the "not-edibles" plus still warn guests that stray pods (especially if the cardamom pod released those crunchy seeds) are possible.

                2. Wait till you've sauted fresh green chillies with your onions etc.... after biting into an eye watering mouthful of whatever plus chilli a few times, one developes a sixth sense for the next scoop going in! it helps to eat with fingers as one gets to know the feel of items.

                  But has anyone tried sauteing the whole spice, adding water and then using the strained spiced water? Sort of a spice stock?!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: madmaya

                    Green Chilies look almost exactly like French Beans(Green Beans) and when in a Biriyani where it is not cooked to death with the onions and the like quite an palate brightener!

                  2. We fight over the cardamom pods- I have to make sure we each get some in our dish. The flavor explosion of those beautiful little seeds inside the pods is amazing.

                    1. Thanks all, very helpful!

                      It woudl seem the general consensus from those with experience is that leaving the spices in is the traditional route. In my case I fear I may have to continue fishing them out as I am trying tomake a convert of my partner since Indian cuisine is not his favourite. No worries, it is a labour of love ha ha.

                      1. As someone who is learning Indian cooking mostly from books and few hands-on resources, this is a great question that is never mentioned in the recipes or books. It's confused me for several years! I've actually fished through Indian take-out looking for cardamon pods. Do they leave them in or take them out? Many thanks to all the contributors! Very helpful answers! I'm leaving mine in!

                        1 Reply
                        1. When we use whole spices, whether it's Indian or Sri Lankan or some other kind of cuisine, we don't take it out. First, it's understood that people will pick out the whole spices and leave it on the side of their plate. Second, if they're eating at home, they'll be eating with their hands anyway (at least most of those native to the Indian subcontinent), so finding the whole spices in their food is not such a big deal.

                          1. Hi Delys, I also leave the whole spices in and let people pick them out at the table. However, for the sake of peace at the family table, I think you could put the spices in cheesecloth and the flavor would still come through. What I would do is start by letting the cardamom, cloves etc. bloom in the oil so that the oil is flavored, then strain the oil through the cheesecloth and proceed with the recipe using the flavored oil as your base. (I would think small spices like cumin don't have to be strained out, nor large ones like cinnamon sticks as they are easy to spot in the final dish.) When your dish gets to the stage where everything is simmering together in a sauce, put your cheesecloth sachet back in to flavor the pot. I don't think you'd lose much flavor by doing it this way, but if you find that the flavors are diluted, you can always use a few extra whole spices to make up for it. I make a pureed squash soup with cardamom, cloves and cinnamon -- I put the spices in a sachet for ease of removal before pureeing and the flavor comes through very clearly.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: Westminstress

                              Thanks Westminstress, since posting this that is pretty much exactly what I have been doing. I don't find a noticeable difference and it has definitely helped convert my partner to Indian cuisine.

                              1. re: delys77

                                Oops, I didn't even notice this is such an old thread! But glad to know the cheesecloth method works ... I may need to use it myself one of these days as my kids are getting to the age when they can serve themselves. Right now I pick out the whole spices from their portions but that's not going to last forever!

                                1. re: Westminstress

                                  lol no worries, always nice to see an old thread "come alive" ha ha.

                            2. We leave the whole spices in the final dish too. Biting into a Cardamom pod or a clove is surely unpleasant, but in addition to their mouth/palate cleansing abilities, they both have great medicinal properties, aiding in antiseptic and digestive processes in the body. Biting into a clove actually helps those with tooth or gum aches.
                              However, as our two toddlers are fed the same spicy food that we eat (yeah we started them young, and sometimes the dish is mixed with some yoghurt to cut the edge off), and to avoid them choking on the whole spices, I reduce the amount of cardamom and cloves by a quarter (if the recipe says 4, I add 3) and powder them in the coffee grinder and use it, as I would the whole spices.

                              Hope this helps :-)

                              1 Reply