Smoky, Camphorous, Menthol
Names and Origins
Like Green Cardamom, Black Cardamom is a relative of ginger in the family Zingiberaceae. It’s scientific name Amomum subulutatum derives from the Greek word for Indian spice and the Latin for “awl”, a sharp pointed tool perhaps referring to the long pointed leaves of the plant. Black Cardamom is one of the most important Indian spices, in Hindi it is referred to as Badi Elaichi.
Black vs Green Cardamom
But what is the difference between Black and Green Cardamom? First of all Green Cardamom comes from a different species, Elettaria cardamomum, while it is in the same family as Black cardamom they are distinct enough to impart very different flavours. Visually Black Cardamom pods are much larger than Green, and as their name suggests are a dark brown to black colour with several deep ridges running along its surface. The characteristic smoky flavour of black cardamom is achieved through the drying process, which is traditionally done over large fire pits. Historically black cardamom was regarded as a cheaper alternative to green cardamom, with some unscrupulous traders removing the seeds and selling them under the name of the more valuable spice. The belief that black cardamom is just an inferior version of green cardamom is a false one however, it’s simply a different spice with different flavours and so has different uses than its sweeter relative. Recent reappraisals of the spice have led to an increased understanding and appreciation without having to compare it to it’s costly counterpart.
Geography and Cultivation
Black Cardamom grows native in the mountainous regions of Himalayas, Nepal and Southern China. The plant itself is a red stemmed perennial herb with long pointed leaves, it’s flowers and pods grow in clusters at the base of the plant, surrounded by the eponymous long pointed leaves. It prefers altitudes above 2000ft which limits where it can be grown commercially. The largest producer today is Nepal with India and Bhutan producing notable quantities also.
So what can Black Cardamom be used for? Black Cardamom is an important flavour in Indian and South Asian cuisine, it’s bold smokey notes providing depth to a number of spice blends and dishes including the essential all purpose blend Garam Masala as well as a myriad of curry blends, whether it be a tikka masala or a bhuna Black cardamom can provide depth and character to a dish. If you want to bring smoke and earthiness to a rub for meats or vegetables, black cardamom can be an effective tool.
The pods can be used whole and added to stews, curries and sauces where it is removed after cooking once the flavour oils have dispersed into the dish. The whole pods and seeds can also be ground to provide a more pungent flavour.
While black cardamom may be unfamiliar at first it’s potential is endless, it’s smoky and menthol notes will soon make it a favourite of any adventurous chef looking to up their spice game.
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