Green cardamom Elettaria cardamomum — is an expensive spice, sometimes called the “seed of paradise”. The fruit is harvested before it is completely ripe, and carefully dried to prevent the pod from bursting and releasing its 17-20 small, black seeds. The seeds have a wonderful aroma which enhances the flavours of curries and desserts alike. It is normally used whole for food and ground for desserts and cakes.
Cardamom is generally sold enclosed in its fibrous lantern-shaped pod. The outer pods of green cardamom may be light green or white, depending on whether they’ve been bleached. Called “queen of the spices” in India, cardamom is native to the mountains of southwest India and to Sri Lanka and was not grown elsewhere until about one hundred years ago, when German immigrants brought cardamom to Guatemala, now the largest producer. Because cardamom pods ripen at different times, they must be picked by hand, making it the world’s third-most-expensive spice after saffron and vanilla. Cardamom has a delicately fragrant, slightly astringent, warming quality with notes of pungent camphor and eucalyptus.
There are two different varieties of green cardamom. Malabar, a small round capsule with a high percentage of delicate flowery compounds, develops its best flavour when the pods have begun to turn from green to off-white. Mysore cardamom, a larger, three-angled capsule with more resinous pine and eucalyptus notes, is often sold green.
In Scandinavia, cardamom is used in cookies, sweet breads, pastries, and sausage. Elsewhere in Europe, cardamom is rare, though it does flavour cookies like German lebkuchen. In northern India’s Moghul cuisine, the pods are fried and added to rice biriyanis and mild meat dishes. In Sri Lanka, the pods are added to fiery beef or chicken curries, while cardamom-flavoured sweets are found all over the Indian subcontinent.
Bedouins have special coffeepots that hold a few cardamom pods in their spouts, flavouring the coffee as it trickles through the pods. In Ethiopia, coffee is toasted immediately before use, often with spices such as cardamom. Cardamom is a popular spice in northern and eastern Africa, and it appears in Moroccan ras el hanout and Ethiopian berberé. Cardamom is frequently added to northern Indian garam masala, and Indian chai masala.
Black cardamom, the seed of a cardamom relative (Amomum subulatum) that grows in the eastern Himalayas, is enclosed in large, oblong, dark brown pods that are ribbed on the edges (the ribs are sometimes called wings). Black cardamom may also refer to several cardamom-related plants grown in the mountains from central Africa to Vietnam, such as Siam cardamom (A. krervanh). Black cardamom is much stronger than green cardamom, with a bold, resinous, and smoky flavour; much of the crop is smoke-dried, and the seeds are rich in penetrating aromatics. Black cardamom is used in India in spicy and rustic dishes, in western Asia in savoury dishes and to season pickles, and in Sichuan province in central China, where it goes into slow-simmered beef stews.
- Other Names
- Green cardamom: Bach dau khau (Vietnamese); cardamome (French); cardamomo (Italian, Portuguese, Spanish), elaichi (Hindi); grüner cardamom (German); hal (Arabic); hamama or kakule meyvesi (Turkish); hel (Farsi, Hebrew); kakoules or kardamo (Greek); kapulaga (Indonesian); kardemomme (Danish, Norwegian); kravanh (Thai); pai-tou-k’ou (Chinese). Black cardamom: Badi or kali elaichi (Hindi); bastard cardamom; brown cardamom; cao guo (Chinese); cardamome du Népal or cardamome noir (French); cardamomo negro (Spanish); cardamomo nero (Italian); false cardamom; greater Indian cardamom; hal aswad (Arabic); large cardamom; Nepal cardamom; schwarzer cardamom (German); winged cardamom
- Purchase whole cardamom: The seeds lose their flavour quickly when ground; even whole cardamom loses about 40 percent of its essential oil per year. Choose green cardamom pods that are lime green, not pale or washed out. Note that some green cardamom is bleached for sale, although this practice is dying out. Avoid powdered cardamom unless it has been recently ground. If you buy ground cardamom, it should be dark pearl gray; light-coloured and fibrous cardamom is ground from the whole pods, not the seeds alone. The whole inner seeds are sold in Indian groceries.
Flavour Danish pastry dough, cakes, cookies, and fruit desserts with cardamom.
Sprinkle grapefruit halves with brown sugar mixed with cardamom, then broil.
Make Arabic cardamom coffee by boiling together freshly roasted, finely ground coffee with several bruised green cardamom pods.
Category: Spices and Herbs
Sub Category: Spice
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