Cardamom refers to several plants of the genera
Elettaria and Amomum in the ginger family Zingiberaceae.
Both genera are native to India, they are recognized by
their small seed pod, triangular in cross-section and
spindle-shaped, with a thin papery outer shell and small
Elettaria pods are light green while Amomum pods are
larger and dark brown. The word cardamom is derived from
the Latin "cardamomum", the romanization of the Greek (kardamomon),
in turn from (kardamon), "cress" + (amomon), a kind of an
Indian spice plant. The earliest attested form of the word
kardamon is the Mycenaean Greek ka-da-mi-ja, written in
Linear B syllabic script.
Types and distribution
The two main
genera of the ginger family that are 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
There were initially
three natural varieties of cardamom plants.
- Malabar (Nadan/Native) - As the
name suggests, this is the native variety of Kerala.
These plants have panicles which grow horizontally
along the ground.
- Mysore - As the name suggests,
this is a native variety of Karnataka. These plants
have panicles which grow vertically upwards.
- Vazhuka - This 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.
Both forms of cardamom are
used as flavorings in both food and drink, as cooking
spices and as a medicine. Elettaria cardamomum (the usual
type of cardamom) is used as a spice, a masticatory, and
in medicine; it is also smoked sometimes; it is used as a
food plant by the larva of the moth Endoclita hosei.
Food and drink
Cardamom has a
strong, unique taste, with an intensely aromatic
fragrance. Black cardamom has a distinctly more astringent
aroma, though not bitter, with a coolness similar to mint.
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 bread
Julekake. Green cardamom is one of the most expensive
spices by weight but little is needed to impart the
Cardamom is best stored in pod form because once the
seeds are exposed or ground they quickly lose their
flavor. However, high-quality ground cardamom is often
more readily (and cheaply) available and is an acceptable
substitute. For recipes requiring whole cardamom pods, a
generally accepted equivalent is 10 pods equals 1-1/2
teaspoons of ground cardamom.
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 pods are ground together with
coffee beans to produce a powdered mixture of the two,
which is boiled with water to make coffee. Cardamom is
also used in some extent in savoury dishes. In Arabic,
cardamom is called Hayl or "Habahan."
In Hebrew, it is called hel. In Persian, it is also
called hel. In Gujarati (a derivative of Sanskrit), it is
"E-li-che". 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 that are as much as forty percent
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 its size ('Moti Elaichi').
Individual seeds are sometimes chewed, in much the same
way as chewing-gum; it is even used by Wrigley's ('Eclipse
exotic Breeze') in which it states "with cardamom to
neutralize the toughest breath odors". It has also been
known to be used for gin making, and in curries.
in South Asia is broadly used to treat infections in teeth
and gums, to prevent and treat throat troubles, congestion
of the lungs and pulmonary tuberculosis, inflammation of
eyelids and also digestive disorders. It also is used to
break up kidney stones and gall stones, and was reportedly
used as an antidote for both snake and scorpion venom.
Amomum is used as a spice and as an ingredient in
traditional medicine in systems of the traditional Chinese
medicine in China, in Ayurveda in India, Japan, Korea and
Vietnam. Species in the genus Amomum are also used in
traditional Indian medicine. Among other species,
varieties and cultivars, Amomum villosum cultivated in
China, Laos and Vietnam is used in traditional Chinese
medicine to treat stomach-aches, constipation, dysentery,
and other digestion problems.
"Tsaoko" cardamom Amomum tsao-ko is cultivated in
Yunnan, China and northwest Vietnam, both for medicinal
purposes and as a spice. Increased demand since the 1980s,
principally from China, for both Amomum villosum and
Amomum tsao-ko has provided a key source of income for
poor farmers living at higher altitudes in localized areas
of China, Laos and Vietnam, people typically isolated from
many other markets.
Until recently, Nepal has been the world's largest
producer of large cardamom. Guatemala has become the
world's largest producer and exporter of cardamom, with an
export total of US$137.2 million for 2007.
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