What is cardamom? Often misspelled “cardomom” or “cardamon”, this aromatic spice is native to southern India but its use and cultivation have spread to many other parts of the world. Besides being cultivated in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia and other areas of rain forest, Guatemala is now the largest grower and exporter of cardamom in the world.
A generic name for several similar plant species, Elettaria cardamomum is the true cardamom plant and has long, thin leaves and distinctive diaphanous, white flowers with light blue stripes and yellow fringes. Green cardamom, also known as Malabar cardamom, and black cardamom, also known as Mysore cardamom, share a similar camphorous pungence with the black variety having a more robust taste and fragrance.
History of Cardamom
A glimmer of an answer to the question of what is cardamom may be found in ancient history. Known in ancient Rome as a perfume and in Eqypt as a tooth cleanser, it is also mentioned in Sanskrit texts as a ceremonial offering. Indian medical writings prior to 200 A.D. describe its use as an aphrodisiac. In Constantinople, Vikings discovered this spice and introduced it into northern Europe. Spices were a valuable commodity in ancient times and cardamom was a highly valuable cargo from these early years into the Indian colonial period. In the1800’s, British colonial coffee plantations planted cardamom as a secondary crop.
What is Cardamom in Cooking?
Cardamom is used to season both meat and vegetable dishes predominately in India, Indo-China, and Europe. Scandinavian countries use cardamom in baking cakes and pastries. In some countries it is used to flavor coffees. While it should be used sparingly because of its overpowering presence, it imparts a lemony flavor with a hint of menthol.
The whole pods or just the seeds may be used to flavor Indian curries. Often the seeds are fried in a pan before the main ingredients are added. When the whole pods are employed in cooking, they must be removed after the dish is done to prevent their infusing a bitter flavor into the concoction.
Some of its many other culinary uses are to flavor pickles, wines, custards, and liqueurs. Sometimes it is also simply chewed like a betel nut. An exotic Middle Eastern recipe using cardamom is Shish Kabobs and has the following ingredients and instructions.
LAMB SHISH KABOB RECIPE
After grating the onion add it along with the garlic, lemon juice, and flour to the meat and mix thoroughly. Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods and mix with the remaining ingredients and knead into the meat. Form the meat around skewers and refrigerate for two hours. Brush with oil and cook on a hot grill until brown.
What is Cardamom in Medicinal Usage?
As referenced in the Arabian Nights, cardamom was prized for its aphrodisiac effects in the ancient world. With high concentrations of camphor, eucalyptol, limonene and terpinine, it is a metabolic enhancer and was used as a treatment for obesity. Because of its high volatile oil content, it is used in Asia to treat lung congestion. With a slightly antibiotic effect, it has been used to treat infections and also inflammations. Cardamom has long been used as a digestive aid and to relieve flatulence.
Consequently, the question of what is cardamom has many answers. First and foremost it is a zesty spice that can be used as a seed, ground powder, or whole pod. As with many spices, cardamom has many health benefits as well.