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Cardamom ice cream is basically any ice cream that derives its flavor at least in part from cardamom seeds or extracts. The seed, commonly used as a spice, is native to India, but has spread through much of Southeast Asia and the Middle East. It has a very strong taste that is often described as both sweet and smoky. In ice cream, cardamom is usually used to infuse the cream before churning. Pods or seeds are rarely left in the finished product.
It is typically very hard to find commercial cardamom ice cream outside of the seed's native growing area. The spice flavor is sometimes seen in Indian supermarkets, as well as in markets in the Middle East. It has also become increasingly popular in Scandinavia, where cardamom has been used in baking for centuries since it was first brought back by Viking explorers. Most Scandinavian cardamom ice cream is combined with other flavors, such as rose or lingonberry. Cardamom is often used in ice cream syrups in these countries, as well.
Cardamom typically carries an intense flavor when purchased in pod form. Outside of India and the Middle East, it also tends to be quite expensive. In order to maximize cardamom flavor without overdoing it or using too many pods, home ice cream makers usually infuse the cream solution with the spice long before the churning begins.
The best way to get cardamom pods to release their flavor is by warming them. In Indian cooking, for instance, the pods are always added to dishes like curries as they simmer. The heat opens up the flavor of the spices, making them even more aromatic and, in many ways, softening the spice’s bite. Achieving these results in ice cream making usually involves warming the cream and milk, then letting the pods soak for a fixed amount of time.
Flavor infusion into substances like milk happens best over time. A bit of pre-planning is usually required for quality cardamom ice cream, then, as cooks will usually infuse the milk and cream mixture a night, or at least several hours, before ice cream making is set to begin. The pods and their seeds are almost always removed prior to churning, so that the cardamom taste is not overpowering. Other complementary flavors, particularly vanilla, are commonly added as well.
In the West, the best bet for many cardamom aficionados is homemade cardamom ice cream. Some specialty ice cream shops, restaurants, or homemade ice cream delivery services produce a cardamom flavor, but not with any regularity. National brands and major labels do not typically make flavors as seemingly “exotic” as cardamom. Making ice cream at home is often easier than it sounds, and an ice cream making tool is almost always required. Cooks generally combine milk, cream, sugar, and flavorings in the machine, place it in the freezer or pack it in ice, then crank or churn it until it forms a solid.
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