Cardamom is a seed from pods produced by two varieties of the ginger family, Elettaria, known as green cardamom or true cardamom, and Amomum, commonly known as black cardamom. Cardamom originated in India and Southeast Asia. Two Indian varieties are known as Malabar, which comes from the state of Kerala, and Mysore, which is a native variety from Karnataka state.
Cardamom is intensely fragrant, with a strong, unique flavor. It is commonly used in Indian cooking, especially in traditional sweets and some masalas or spice blends, as well as in chai tea blends. It is used extensively in baked goods and holiday breads in Scandinavia and Europe. In the Middle East, it is used in sweet foods and is traditionally ground with coffee for beverages. It is also used in some savory dishes.
Green cardamom is one of the most expensive of the spices, but very little is needed to flavor foods. Cardamom is best purchased in small seed pods and then ground or opened and the seeds ground, as it quickly loses its flavor once it is pulverized.
Black cardamom is used less extensively, but is sometimes put into curry blends and is occasionally used to flavor rice and other dishes. Individual seeds are chewed to freshen the breath.
Cardamom has been used in traditional medicine for hundreds of years. It is used to treat infections of the gum and teeth, sore throats and lung congestion, tuberculosis and digestive illnesses. It has also been used as an antidote for both snake and scorpion bites. It is found in traditional Chinese medicine, as well as in Ayurveda, and is used throughout most of Asia in medicinal blends. It is known to have strong anti-microbial properties.
Until recently, Nepal was the world’s largest producer and exporter of cardamom, but recently, Guatemala has surpassed Nepal in cardamom production and sales.