May 3, 2005


Cardamom (scientific name: Elettaria cardamomum is one of the most expensive spices in the world. As such, it is frequently adulterated with inferior substitutes. The fruits of the plant have small capsules, or pods, that contain around a dozen seeds each. There are two natural varieties: the larger "black" and the smaller "green." The bleached white pods are much more bland. The plant itself is a perennial herb and a member of the ginger family.

History: Native to India, it grows wild on the Malabar coast, and is now cultivated in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Central America, Mexico, and Thailand. It is known to have been grown in Babylonian gardens, and is also listed as an import on which duty taxes were charged in Alexandria. The ancient Egyptians chewed the seeds as a teeth cleaner, and it appears in the 1550 B.C. medical document "Ebers Papyrus." Vikings discovered it in Constantinople and introduced it to Scandinavia where it remains very popular as flavoring for breads and cookies. The Normans first introduced cardamom to England in the 11th century, but it wasn't imported to Europe on a regular basis until the 17th with the advent of easier trade routes by sea.

Uses and Properties: It may be used whole or ground. It is best to buy whole pods to get the sharpest flavor. It should be stored in an airtight container out of direct light and away from heat, and will keep for many months. When a recipe calls for whole cardamom, crack the pods slightly before adding them to the dish to extract the full flavor.

Used mostly in the Near and Far East, it is often featured in curries and desserts. It is also an essential ingredient in pilaus. However, more than half of the world's consumption is accounted for by its use as an ingredient in coffees in various Arab countries. Its most common use in Western cuisine is in baking. Cardamom is a stimulant and carminative, and has been used as a digestive since ancient times. It is also mentioned in the Arabian Nights as an aphrodisiac, and in old Vedic texts as a cure for impotence.


Posted by Jennifer at May 3, 2005 12:06 PM

Wow, great info about cardamom. It's one of those spices I frequently see on the side of the bottle of various foods and wonder exactly what its taste is. Cool!

Posted by: Joe at May 23, 2005 6:11 PM

>The ancient Egyptians chewed the seeds
>as a teeth cleaner

Having foolishly chewed a cooked cardamom pod myself, I'll certainly agree that it can make your mouth taste very srongly (meaning about the level of an Altoids mint) of cardamom, and so give you breath that smells of cardamom. I don't know if it actually made my teeth cleaner though....

Posted by: Michael at June 6, 2005 9:09 PM
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