Originating from the western ghat forests of southern India, Cardamom is one of the most ancient spices known to mankind. It is a wild growing bush and is now grown in Guatemala, Indo China, Sri Lanka and Tanzania. Its flavor and cleansing quality made it a popular tooth cleaner in ancient Egypt and it was used by Greeks and Romans as a perfume. About a thousand years ago, the Vikings made it popular in Scandinavia when they took it from Constantinople.
Being the second most costly spice, first being Saffron, Cardamom is often adulterated with bastard cardamom, Nepal cardamom, Java cardamom and winged cardamom, the inferior quality but similar looking plants. The genuine cardamom known as Elettria Cardamomum has two main varieties – Malabar Cardamom and Mysore Cardamom – grown in India. Mysore Cardamom has more aroma than others because the content level of cineol and limonene in it is high.
Cardamom as Spice
A ginger-like plant’s seed contains cardamom. Found in clusters of three double row pods on the plant, the small and sticky 5-20 mm long seeds, six in a row in the pod, are brown-black in color. The large ones, known as ‘blacks’ are brown in color and the smaller variety is green colored. Now a day bleached white pods are available. The design of the pods is either oval or oblate and they have a triangular cross section. The large sized have wrinkled skin and when dried the surface gets rough with texture of the pods like that of tough paper. Cardamom pods are sold whole or split and the seed are available loose or grounded but the real flavor of cardamom is always in the whole variety.
Smell: cardamom has a warm but pungent aroma.
Flavor: The large variety has a strong blunt flavor with strong undertones of eucalyptus and camphor. The small variety has added lemon undertones.
Hotness Scale: 2
Culinary Uses of Cardamom
Cardamom finds various ways of use in the Indian kitchens. In pulses it is used as whole or split but when used in other dishes it is either grounded or mixed with other ingredients when frying. It is advisable to keep the pod as whole until it is used as it has no flavor of its own but leaves a bitter flavor in the dishes.
Cardamom is widely used in near and far east. In the western countries it finds use in Dutch Biscuits and Scandinavian akvavit, Cakes and Pastries. It is a must in Indian flavored curries, pulses and pulaos (rice dishes). It can also be found in Indian sweets and drinks but only on festivals because of its high price. It is sparingly used in pickles, mulled wines, cooked meat, poultry and shellfish, as a flavor in custards and Russian liqueurs. In places where it is available abundantly, people chew it with betel leaves. In Turkey and Arab countries it is a ritual to serve tea or coffee laced with cardamom.
In Allopathic medicines cardamom is not used directly as an ingredient but is used as a flavoring base in conjunction with other ingredients in medicines for cure of indigestion and flatulence ailments. The ancient Arabs found it to be a sex stimulant and the Indians used it to cure obesity and indigestion. It still finds use as a sex stimulant by making a cordial of the seeds in hot water.
It is a wild growing bush in the tropics, a member of the ginger family having a tuberous trunk and stems reaching up to 6-16 feet and leaves spanning 1-2 feet in length and 2-6 inches wide. Leafy branches growing at the ground level bear the pods and green flowers. Plantation of cardamom is done in tropical zones under the shades of trees and seeds are sowed 10 feet apart. The pods are gathered before their ripening between October and December and dried in the sun for use.