This sweet spice used to grow in the wild in the monsoon forests of the Western Ghats in South India until the 19th century . Those areas were known as the cardamom hills. British colonies established plantations of cardamom and now Green Cardamom is the third most expensive spice after Saffron and Vanilla. During my last visit to India I was in the Western Ghats of South India, surrounded by cardamom plantations for a few days. It was a great experience to be surrounded by my favorite spice. It was the cardamom season and the green ripe pods were every where. The ripe fruits are collected manually and then dried and traded.
In Europe cardamom is a rather unknown spice used sparingly for cookies, sweet breads, pastries and sausages.
Cardamom fruits have been traded in India for at least 1000 years. It is used as an aromatic ingredient for flavoring and preserving food as well as for medicine. Cardamom oil has antibacterial properties and is used in cosmetics, chewing gum and for preserving foods.The seeds are frequently chewed after meals as a breath freshener as well.
Green cardamom is known as the Queen of spices, with black pepper being the King. I use it for my south Asian cooking as well as for sweets and desserts because of its wonderful sweet aroma and for its exciting warm sweet flavor. In South Asian and Middle eastern cooking it is a very common ingredient. In Arab countries Cardamom is mostly used to flavor the famous Arabic coffee Called Gahwa-al Arabia, which is usually considered as one of the symbols of Arab hospitality. It is made with coffee powder boiled with water, sugar and cardamom and then served in small cups, sipped slowly and enjoyed.
In India, Cardamom is one of the main spices used for curries, sweets and for making Garam masala the spice mixture. Cardamom is a popular spice in Northern and Eastern Africa as well. It is used in spice blends like RASAL EL HANOUT (Moroccan) and BERBERE (Ethopian).
Green pods are significantly superior in fragrance to the yellow or white bleached ones. Cardamom can be bought either in the pod or in powder form. I prefer the pods because cardamom seeds begin to loose their essential oils and flavour as soon as they are ground, and hence I feel the cardamom powder has less flavor compared to freshly ground seeds. The sweet warm aroma of cardamom seeds ground in a pestle and mortar is so satisfying…… If using cardamom to flavor dishes lightly, crush the cardamom pod so that the seeds break and the flavor is released more easily to the dish. One thing I want to say is to be careful when using cardamom – a little goes a long way ……… I once tasted cardamom chicken curry with more cardamom pods than chicken pieces!!!! You can imagine how powerfull it was ………