Indian Green Cardamom Pods Black Cardamom Pods
Cardamom refers to several plants of the similar genera Elettaria and Amomum in the ginger family Zingiberaceae. Both genera are native to India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Bhutan; 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. Guatemala is the biggest producer and exporter of cardamom in the world, followed by India. Some other countries, such as Sri Lanka, have also begun to cultivate it. Elettaria pods are light green, while Amomum pods are larger and dark brown.
It is the world’s third-most expensive spice by weight, outstripped in market value only by saffron and vanilla.
The modern genus name Elettaria is derived from the local name in a South Asian tongue; cf. Hindi ilaychi [इलायची] and Punjabi ilaichi [ਇਲੈਚੀ] “green cardamom”. The common source is Sanskrit, where cardamom is called ela [एला] or ellka [एल्ल्का], which is itself a loan from a Dravidian language. From the corresponding Dravidian root, ĒL, all modern names of cardamom in the major Dravidian languages are directly derived, e. g., Kannada elakki [ಏಲಕ್ಕಿ], Telugu yelakulu [యేలకులు], Tamil elakkai [ஏலக்காய்] and Malayalam elakkay [ഏലക്കായ്]. The second element kai means “vegetable”.
The two main genera of the ginger family named as forms of cardamom are distributed as follows:
Elettaria (commonly called cardamom, green cardamom, or true cardamom) is distributed from India to Malaysia.
Amomum (commonly known as black cardamom, brown cardamom, kravan, Java cardamom, Bengal cardamom, Siamese cardamom, white cardamom, or red cardamom) is distributed mainly in Asia and Australia.
The two types of cardamom, κάρδαμομον and ἄμωμον, were distinguished in the fourth century BCE by the Greek father of botany, Theophrastus. Some of his informants[who?] told him these varieties came to Greece from the land of the Medes in northern Persia, while others were aware it came originally from India.
The three natural varieties of green cardamom plants are:
Malabar (Nadan/native), as the name suggests, is the native variety of Kerala. These plants have panicles which grow horizontally along the ground.
Mysore, as the name suggests, is a native variety of Karnataka. These plants have panicles which grow vertically upwards. The Mysore variety has, however, declined in the past few decades owing to the emergence of the more resistant and better yielding ‘Green Gold’ variety, and which is the most common form of cardamom harvested in Kerala.
Vazhuka is a naturally occurring hybrid between Malabar and Mysore varieties, and the panicles grow neither vertically nor horizontally, but in between.
Recently, a few planters isolated high-yielding plants and started multiplying them on a large scale. The most popular high-yielding variety is ‘Njallani’. ‘Njallani’, also known as rup-ree-t, is a unique high-yielding cardamom variety developed by an Indian farmer, Sebastian Joseph, at Kattappana in the South Indian state of Kerala. K. J. Baby of Idukki District, Kerala, has developed a purely white-flowered variety of Vazhuka type green cardamom having higher yield than ‘Njallani’. The variety has high adaptability to different shade conditions and can also be grown in waterlogged areas.
Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intensely aromatic, resinous fragrance. Black cardamom has a distinctly more smokey, 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 flavor. It is best stored in pod form because once the seeds are exposed or ground, they quickly lose their flavor. However, high-quality ground cardamom seed is often more readily (and cheaply) available and is an acceptable substitute. 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 and is often used in baking in Nordic countries, such as in the Finnish sweet bread pulla or in the Scandinavian Christmas bread Julekake. 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 some 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 South Asia, green cardamom is often used in traditional Indian sweets and in masala chai (spiced tea). Black cardamom is sometimes used in garam masala for curries. It is occasionally used as a garnish in basmati rice and other dishes. It is often referred to as fat cardamom due to its size. Individual seeds are sometimes chewed and used in much the same way as chewing gum. It is even used by confectionery giant Wrigley; its Eclipse Breeze Exotic Mint packaging indicates it contains “cardamom to neutralize the toughest breath odors”. It has been known to be used in making gin and herbal teas.