Cardamom, also known as cardamon or cardamum, is a spice made from the seeds of several plants in the genera Elettaria and Amomum in the family Zingiberaceae.
Both genera are native to the Indian subcontinent and Indonesia. They are recognised by their small seed pods: triangular in cross-section and spindle-shaped, with a thin, papery outer shell and small, black seeds; Elettaria pods are light green and smaller, while Amomum pods are larger and dark brown.
Species used for cardamom are native throughout tropical and subtropical Asia. The first references to cardamom are found in Sumer, and in the Ayurvedic literatures of India. Nowadays, it is also cultivated in some other countries, such as Guatemala, Malaysia and Tanzania. The German coffee planter Oscar Majus Kloeffer introduced Indian cardamom (kerala) to cultivation in Guatemala before World War I, and by 2000, that country had become the biggest producer and exporter of cardamom in the world, followed by India.
The two main types of cardamom are:
- True or green cardamom (or when bleached, white cardamom) comes from the species Elettaria cardamomum and is distributed from India to Malaysia. What is often referred to as white cardamon is actually Siam cardamom, Amomum krervanh.
- Black cardamom, also known as brown, greater, large, longer, or Nepal cardamom, comes from species Amomum subulatum and is native to the eastern Himalayas and mostly cultivated in Eastern Nepal, Sikkim, and parts of Darjeeling district in West Bengal of India, and southern Bhutan.
Uses of Cardamom in Food and Beverage
Both forms of cardamom are used as flavourings and cooking spices in both food and drink, and as a medicine. E. cardamomum (green cardamom) is used as a spice, a masticatory, and in medicine; it is also smoked.
Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intensely aromatic, resinous fragrance. Black cardamom has a distinctly more smoky, though not bitter, aroma, with a coolness some consider similar to mint.
Green cardamom is one of the most expensive spices by weight but little is needed to impart flavour. It is best stored in the pod, as exposed or ground seeds quickly lose their flavour. Grinding the pods and seeds together lowers both the quality and the price. For recipes requiring whole cardamom pods, a generally accepted equivalent is 10 pods equals 1½ teaspoons of ground cardamom.
- It is a common ingredient in Indian cooking.
- It is also often used in baking in the Nordic countries, in particular in Sweden, Norway, and Finland, where it is used in traditional treats such as the Scandinavian Jule bread Julekake, the Swedish kardemummabullar sweet bun, and Finnish sweet bread pulla.
- In the Middle East, green cardamom powder is used as a spice for sweet dishes, as well as traditional flavouring in coffee and tea. Cardamom is used to a wide extent in savoury dishes. In some Middle Eastern countries, coffee and cardamom are often ground in a wooden mortar, a mihbaj, and cooked together in a skillet, a mehmas, over wood or gas, to produce mixtures as much as 40% cardamom.
- In Asia, both types of cardamom are widely used in both sweet and savoury dishes, particularly in the south. Both are frequent components in spice mixes, such as Indian and Nepali masalas and Thai curry pastes. Green cardamom is often used in traditional Indian sweets and in masala chai (spiced tea). Both are also often used as a garnish in basmati rice and other dishes. Individual seeds are sometimes chewed and used in much the same way as chewing gum.
- In Korea, medicinal cardamom (Amomum villosum var. xanthioides) and black cardamom (Amomum tsao-ko) are used in traditional tea called jeho-tang.
- It is used by confectionery giant Wrigley; its Eclipse Breeze Exotic Mint packaging indicates the product contains “cardamom to neutralize the toughest breath odours”.
- It is also included in aromatic bitters, gin, and herbal teas.
Health Benefits of Cardamom
There are numerous purported health benefits in using cardamom, and below we have listed the major health benefits:
- fights colorectal cancer
- beneficial for cardiovascular health
- fights depression
- protects against gastrointestinal problems
- acts as an antimicrobial
- treats muscle spasms
- fights dental diseases
- used for treating respiratory issues especially asthma
- boosts blood circulation
- detoxification agent
- prevents nausea and vomiting
- used in aromatherapy
- fights skin allergies
- fights hypertension
- improves appetite
Substitutes for Cardamom
If the recipe calls for one teaspoon of cardamom, start with a ¼ teaspoon of cloves and a ¼ teaspoon cinnamon. Ideally, it should be ½ teaspoon of cloves and cinnamon, but it’s best if you taste your dish first, then add afterward if you need to.