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Cardamom: The Queen of Spices

Cardamom or Elettaria Cardamomum Maton is one of the most highly prized and exotic spices and rightly deserves the name “queen of spices”. It is also commonly referred to as the “green cardamom” or the “true cardamom”, and belongs to the family of ginger. The use of this spice dates back to at least 4000 years. This is one spice that is simply unbeatable in taste, flavour, and aroma. One has to experience it to explain it. Originally, cardamom grew wildly along the Western Ghats in South India. This region even to this day is known as Cardamom Hills. Later in 1914, the cardamom travelled a bit. A German coffee planter by the name of Oscar Majus Klöffer decided to take it with him to Guatemala. Today this country tops the list of exporters, with India coming a close second. Price wise, cardamom ranks right at the top alongside other spices like vanilla and saffron. However, when it comes to the honours for popularity, nothing can beat this multi-faceted spice. It fits in brilliantly with both sweet and savouries, and from Finnish bread to Bangladeshi tea, one cannot miss its presence.


Green Cardamoms


Cardamom Plantation in Kerala


The planting of cardamom should be well planned. Shady trees like balangi, cedar and elangi should be grown first, as these form a canopy under which the cardamom plants grow. Cultivation is done through seeds or propagation by vegetative means through suckers. The latter is the most preferred method. Long, trailing leafy stalks grow from the base of the plant, and they are the bearers of the fruit. The cardamom flower is green in colour with a white purple veined tip. The fruit is known as a “capsule” and these are harvested only when they ripen. These crops thrive best in temperatures between 15 degrees and 35 degrees. Monsoons are the apt planting time, as these plants grow best in light drizzles and cloudy conditions. Cardamom plants are “high maintenance”. Regular weeding, frequent watering during the hot summer months, ensuring sufficient light during the monsoons, ample shade during the summers and organic moisturising are round the year activities that take place on a cardamom plantation. Apart from this, fertilisers are used to keep pests away from the fruit.

The plants start bearing fruit in the 2nd or 3rd year of plantation. They are harvested when the fruits reach the ripened stage. This is one fruit which to-date is harvested by hand. This is the primary reason why it is so expensive. Once harvested, these capsules are then sun-dried or machine-dried depending on the weather conditions. Cardamom is graded on the basis of size and colour. In order to retain their green colour, once dry, they are packed in black polythene bags. Cardamom requires a lot of care and timing is a very crucial factor. So, the next time you come across one in your plate, remember that it took a lot to reach you.


Cardamom Flower


Cardamom, in spite of being pricey and exclusive, is a much-wanted ingredient, not just from a gastronomical but also from a medicinal perspective. It is also a sought-after remedy for dental issues like gum and teeth infections. It is used as an antidote for both snake and scorpion venom. Traditional Indian medicine also makes use of this spice in a variety of ways. Today there is a lot of speculation that it may also help fight cancer. The versatile spice even finds its way into perfumeries.


Hand picking the fruit (Kerala)


Black Cardamom Plant

Black Cardamom

There are two versions of this wondrous spice called cardamom. While one is green, small, petite, delicate and totally consumable, the other is dark brown, big, has a hard exterior and only its seeds can be eaten. Another interesting fact is that the black cardamom is 3 times the size of the green one. Called amomum subulatum/amomum costatum scientifically, it’s grown mainly in the Eastern Himalayas – the region comprising Nepal, Sikkim, and Bhutan. This cardamom plant can grow up to 5 feet in height. Black cardamom pods have thick, dried and wrinkled skin and are often referred to as the large cardamom or Moti Elaichi due its size.


Black & Green Cardamoms