As one of the essential Indian spices, cardamom is known for its
intense and pungent flavour and is used in both sweet and savoury
Best known as an export from India, it’s also cultivated in Sri
Lanka and Guatemala. Cardamom from India, however, is considered to
be of the highest quality – especially the Malabar cardamom which
is round in shape and has a more mellow flavour than its Mysore
counterpart. Indian cardamom is considered one of the world’s most
expensive spices along with saffron and vanilla. But since it
started being cultivated in Guatemala, the price has dropped
Cardamom is the fruit of Elettaria cardamomum, a tropical plant
that’s part of the ginger family most commonly found in southern
India’s Ghat Mountains (also knows as Cardamom Hills). While the
plant is a perennial that grows straight up to about six feet, the
fruit is actually a three-celled oval pod that holds as many as 18
tiny, brown, aromatic seeds. Cardamom pods are typically
one-quarter to one full inch in length. And while cardamom is
available as a whole pod or as husked seeds, whole pods generally
come from India while seeds are exported from Guatemala.
Cardamom is a strong and pungent spice and therefore used in
combination with other spices. In India, it’s used in curry powder,
spice mixes and garam masala. In both India and Pakistan, cardamom
is also used to make chewing products that resemble bubble gum.
The spice is immensely popular in other countries as well. In
Arab nations, the spice is used to flavour coffee which is very
important in the Arab culture since serving cardamom-flavoured
coffee is considered a sign of hospitality and prestige. So popular
is cardamom-flavoured coffee that it is estimated that half of the
world’s production of cardamom is used for this purpose alone.
Scandinavian and Baltic countries have also come to respect and
cherish the spice where it’s widely used to flavour breads and is a
common ingredient in Danish pastries. So popular is this spice that
it has surpassed cinnamon in popularity (especially in Sweden).
Cardamom has a strong historical presence as well. It’s believed
to have grown in the King of Babylon’s gardens as early as 720 BC.
In the year 4 BC, Indian Ayurvedics used it to combat the
accumulation of fat, as a cure for skin ailments and to treat
Throughout history, it has been used as a medicinal herb to aid
digestion, treat colds, bronchitis, fevers, headaches, diarrhea,
vomiting and liver complaints to name a few. The Romans also used
the herb as a dieting aid since it was believed to subdue
The spice also had its everyday uses: In ancient Egypt it was
used to freshen breath and whiten teeth. Ancient Greeks and Romans
added cardamom as an ingredient for perfumes.
But perhaps the most important historical reference of cardamom
(at least as our Western culture uses it today) comes from Europe.
During the Middle Ages right through to the Renaissance, the spice
was a very popular European import. And the rest, as they say, is
Try it today: