The aromatic seeds of cardamom, a member of the ginger family, have been used as a condiment and in the preparation of medicines or perfumes. This exotic spice features in many Middle Eastern, usually along fruits and nuts, and Indian dishes -often in combination with almonds, saffron and other spices in biryanis and pilaus.
Cardamom is the flavor behind Arab coffee. In The Arab Nights, cardamom is considered as an aphrodisiac. It is supposed to have grown in the famous Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
Although it is widely used, it is not cheap. It is the most expensive spice after saffron and, probably, vanilla. There are a number of plants related to cardamom but their seeds are of an inferior quality. These seeds are often sold as true cardamom, or they are added to ground cardamom mixtures. This is another reason to buy only the green, brown (natural) or white (bleached) cardamom pods and grind as required.
How to identify cardamom
The brown seeds are enclosed in white, brown or green fig-shaped pods, size of a cranberry and containing about 17-20 seeds each. The plant has long tuberous roots, long green leaves and green flowers with a white-purple streaked end. It grows 6-16 ft (2-5 m); the stalks bearing the pods spread out flat on the ground from the base of the plant.
There are two main varieties of cardamom: the green - sweet and aromatic - and the brown - larger in size and with a stronger, more acrid aroma and flavor. White cardamom is green cardamom that has been bleached instead of sun dried. Substitute green cardamom seeds with those of the white one without compunction but the white pods have lost all flavor and therefore are not recommended for dishes that call for whole pods.
Originating in the East Indies, the plant was first imported into Europe. Today cardamom is cultivated not only in southern India and surrounding area, but also parts of Africa, in Central America, parts of African and the Pacific Islands.
Cardamom is available as whole dried pods, loose seeds, whole, or ground. Commercial loose seeds or ground cardamom quickly loose their flavor and aroma while the pods last for a long time. Buy whole pods and use split, or extract the seeds from the pods, then crush or grind as required; a mortar and pestle are usually all the equipment required.
How to use and store
Cardamom has a heady aroma and a warm, piquant-but-sweet flavor. It is used in desserts, sausages and in curry powder. Brown cardamom is an essential ingredient of garam massala, the spice mix used all over India. Cardamom is widely used also in Arab countries to flavor sweet and savory dishes as well as coffee; indispensable spice in rice dishes of northern India and Pakistan. It is an important flavor in Scandinavian cooking. It is used in cakes and pastries, also used in pickles, punches and spiced wine.
The entire pod can be ground or the seeds may be removed and ground. For stews, curries, and other long cooking dishes, just crush the pod open, adding pod and seeds to the pot. The case will disintegrate as the dish cooks. Be cautious with cardamom, a little bit goes a long way.
Pods can be cooked and they can also be eaten. This is not compulsory and you will do best to remove them before serving the meal, otherwise your guests may feel forced and get surprised by the taste - they taste very much like peppercorns but not hot.
Cooking with cardamom
Cardamom is widely used in Indian cooking to flavor rice and desserts. It is usually a part of their garam masala, or curry spice mix.
Ground cardamon can be used instead of the pods, 1/2tsp ground cardamom is the equivalent of 10 pods -green or white- seeds removed and crushed.
If ou don't have it at all, substitute 1/2tsp ground cardamom with:
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon + 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg or cloves
The flavor varies.
To enjoy an Arab coffee home, add 1/2 tsp cardamom to a pot of strong, high roast coffee.
elettaria cardamomum (zingiberaceae) cardamom - Spanish: cardamomo.
A spice with a warm and slightly heady piquant flavor; appears in curries, savory rice dishes or coffee in Indian and Middle East cuisines, found in pastries, buns or punch in Western cooking.
How to grow
Cardamom grows wild in tropical rain forests, usually above 3,000 ft. It is also cultivated in cleared plantations. It propagates by roots or seeds. The pods are collected in the late fall season, just before they ripen.