Elettaria cardamomum is an intense and aromatic spice. Green cardamom pods have a complex, delightful flavor and are an important ingredient in chai tea blends. Cardamom pods are ideal for longer term storage and can be cracked, then ground fresh. Use whole cardamom to flavor curry dishes and coffee drinks.
A member of the Zingiberaceae family, the sweetly aromatic cardamom is the fruit of a tropical plant related to ginger, and is one of the world's most expensive spices, after saffron and vanilla. Growing cardamom is extremely labor intensive. The tall plants, grown on plantations in Guatemala or India, flower for eight or nine months of the year. Each pod, or capsule, ripens slowly, and must be plucked when it is three-quarters ripe.
After harvest, the pods are washed and dried. The method of drying dictates the final color. White indicates the pods have been dried for many days in the sun leaving them bleached. Green pods have been dried for one day and night in a heated room. The three seeds inside each pod are considered the spice.
Cardamom is essential to the cuisines of the Middle East and Scandinavia. Cardamom coffee or gahwa is a symbol of Arab hospitality. Cardamom flavors ground meat in Norway and baked goods in Sweden. Cooks all over the world combine cardamom with cloves and cinnamon. Cardamom lends its distinctive flavor to chai.
In India Cardamom was known as the "Queen of spices" to black pepper's title as the "King of spices". Also, in India during the 11th century, it was listed as one of the ingredients in the "Five fragrance betel chew" in the Book of Splendour. Cardamom oil is used to flavor pharmaceuticals, and as a fragrance in soaps, detergents, perfumes and other body care products.
You can find cardamom in the market in several forms. You can purchase whole pods and remove the seeds as needed. This form of the herb retains its aroma and flavor longest.