Cardamom is the fruit of a large herbaceous perennial shrub of the ginger family. It flourishes in areas which have a constant warm temperature and with moderate rainfall, and grows wild in the forests of southern India.
Native range Southern India, Sri Lanka
Major producers India, Guatemala, Colombia, Tanzania, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea
Harvesting The cardamom plant bears fruit pods after 3 years and continues to produce for 10-15 years. The elongated green pods ripen from September to December and are hand picked to avoid damaging both pods and plants. This labour-intensive harvesting accounts for the fact that cardamom is one of the most expensive spices.
Taste and aroma The aroma of cardamom is strong but mellow and it has a warm, slightly lemon-like flavour with hints of eucalyptus and camphor.
Culinary uses Cardamom is an essential ingredient in a wide range of Indian dishes. It is often used to flavour sweets, milk products, and in masala tea. Cardamom can also be used in savoury foods like biriyani and meat curries, and it is an essential ingredient in curry powders, masalas, and other spice mixtures such as berbere from Ethiopia. Cardamom is used extensively in Scandinavian cooking, in pickles, cakes, and pastries, and with herrings. In Arab countries, cardamom-flavoured coffee (gahwa) is popular and in Bedouin culture is served with much ceremony as a symbol of hospitality.
Other uses The seeds and pods of cardamom contain an essential oil which is used in perfumes and as a stimulant.
Historical uses Cardamom has been used in Indian ayurvedic medicine for more than 2,000 years to ‘remove fat’ and as a cure for urinary and skin complaints. It reached Europe along the caravan routes, and the Vikings took it from Constantinople to Scandinavia. Cardamom was used in perfumes by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Storage Cardamom pods should be stored in an airtight container in a cool dark place.