Piney, penetrating, menthol
Name and Origins
Bringing complexity and zest to both savoury and sweet dishes Green Cardamom has been one of the most sought after spices throughout history and even today it is one of the most valuable spices by weight. The English word Cardamom comes from the Greek kardámōmon, a compound word deriving from words for cress and a nonspecific Indian spice. The plant’s scientific name Elettaria cardamomum stems from the Dravidian languages of Southern India, in Hindi it’s referred to as Elaichi.
Green Cardamom has been known to cultures in South Asia and the Middle East as far back as 3000 BCE with ancient Sanskrit and Assyrian texts referring to it. It was long believed to hold cleansing properties in different cultures, being chewed to clean teeth in Ancient Egypt and as a perfume across Europe.
Geography and cultivation
Naturally found in the southern forests of India, Green Cardamom now grows across many Asian countries with major production in China, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The largest producer however is Guatemala which can produce more than half the world's supply in a good weather year.
The plant itself grows from a rhizome like Ginger or Turmeric, however it is the seed bearing pods which are used as a flavourant rather than the root itself. Cardamom plants are perennials which can grow up to 2 metres in height, unusually the pods grow low to the ground, near the base of the plant. It is said that Cardamom grown at higher altitudes is of higher quality. The rainforests in which it grows are partially cleared to allow sufficient light and regularly maintained for several years before a commercially viable harvest is available.
Food and other uses
The penetrating and pungent flavour of Cardamom pairs remarkably well with many other ingredients, both sweet and savoury. In Indian cuisine it is ubiquitous, balancing spicy curries like madras with penetrating coolness or bringing a sweet complexity to delicious spiced desserts and sweets. Cardamom is a regular component in the spices found in Masala Chai tea blends where it’s menthol notes balance the pungency of the warming spices like cloves and ginger. Cardamom is particularly popular in Scandinavia where it flavours a wide variety of festive and delicious desserts such as Krumkake
Cardamom has been claimed to possess anti-inflammatory properties which can reportedly improve digestion and intestinal health.