Sunday, January 29, 2012

Ingredient of the Day: Cardamom Spice

Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I'm taking with me when I go. – Erma Bombeck

Green cardamom pods and ground. Photo: .michael.newman., Flickr ccl
I wonder which one she took…? I was thinking today about what to post and was searching my mind for something that perhaps not everyone is familiar with. All of  sudden cardamom popped into my mind.

Green and black cardamom pods. Photo: Wiki CC
Cardamom is a wonderful spice unlike any other. It is a staple in Indian, Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisines. It has an intense flavour and aroma which is fairly indescribable – some people say “resinous.” I prefer “floral.”

What is Cardamom?
Cardamom is the third most expensive spice in the world, just behind vanilla and saffron. It comes (when not ground) in the form of hard pods. It’s not to say that it costs a fortune to use. A small amount is all that’s needed in any recipe.

Cardamom is best stored as whole pods because (like every other spice) once ground it begins to lose its flavour. Although native to India and Sri Lanka, the largest producer today is Guatemala.

Cardamom comes in two varieties: green (Elettara) and black (Ammomum). Both are from the ginger family, believe it or not. Green cardamom is the most common. Uses of both types in cooking and in medicine has been well documented for millenia.

Cardamom cakes. Photo: Akane86, Flickr ccl
History of Cardamom
Like many other spices, Cardamom was first used for its medicinal, rather than culinary, properties. It was featured in an Egyptian papyrus of medicinal plants from 1550 BC. In addition to a medicine, it was also used by the Egyptians as perfume and an embalming agent. 

Historical Indian texts dating to 200 BC mention cardamom as a flavouring and medicine. Cardamom is also mentioned in Sanskrit texts of 400 BC where it was used as a ceremonial offering.

Around this same time the Greeks had made contact with the East and began importing what they called amomon and kardamomon. Even then there was a distinct recognition of the two distinct varieties. 

Cardamom became a commodity of significant European trade aroung 1,000 AD when contact with Arab countries brought it into the limelight. Exports from the area in India now called Kerela (the Malabar coast) were written about by European explorers in the early 1500s. By the mid-1500s international trade in cardamom was well established and documented.

Cardamom sweet rolls. See post of February 6, 2012
Kerala continued to monopolize the cardamom trade until British colonial times. Until the time of the British Raj all cardamom was grown wild. It  was the British who established plantations to cover the increased desire of this spice. It was often grown as a secondary crop on coffee plantations.

Cardamom today
Cardamom has found its way into cuisines all over the world. For example, Caribbean curries use it as a flavouring agent. Cardamom is also common in Scandinavian cookies as well as breads. It was one of the favoured spices brought home by the Vikings.

Cardamom is a flavouring agent in Chai tea. In cooking, besides being a curry staple, it is wonderful paired with citrus, puddings, cakes or in meringues. Arab coffee is also strongly flavoured with cardamom. Drop a few pods into the next pot you brew to impart their exotic flavour. It can also be steeped in sugar syrup and used as an ice cream topping, or in ice cream itself.

Cardamom might not be in your spice cupboard now, but you should seek it out. It has a thousand uses. It’s unique flavour and aroma most certainly will brighten your day.


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  1. Interesting facts about the generally available spice in the kitchen.

    very nice collection about the medicinal plants that is the cardamom.

    Thank You.

  2. Wow this are great and useful facts ingredients and spices to our kitchen could be a useful for medicine.

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