Cardamom: the queen of spices

October 7, 2015 10:36 am
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So inspired by this spice, Chef Manju Choudhury named his LA restaurant “Cardamom” in its honour. Asked why, he told LA Magazine: “The green of the cardamom represents freshness. It’s used in our starters, mains, sides, desserts, and drinks. Cardamom gives great flavor and fragrance to any dish, and also has medicinal properties. It’s one of my favorite spices.”
Its warm, sweet flavour is instantly recognisable.

Cardamom sits happily in both sweet and savoury dishes and has a range of nutritional and health benefits. When used in starters and mains, you’ll find it in Indian curries, Chinese stews and Vietnamese soups. Middle Eastern puddings and Asian sweet bread and biscuits see this smoky spice paired with sugar and rosewater, such is its versatility.

And it’s been part of Asian cuisine for centuries.

History and location

Originally three types of cardamom existed, but now only two remain; both genera of the ginger family. They have two distinct colours: green (Elettaria cardamomum, also known as true cardamom) and black, or Amomum cardamom. Green cardamom is found in India and Malaysia, while Amomum is used mainly in Australasia and Asia. Amomum comes in various hues with black, brown, white and red being the most common.

The plant is grown primarily in the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats in South India. Elsewhere, cardamom can be found growing exclusively for export in Guatemala, while Tanzania, Vietnam, Thailand grow and export in large quantities. This large leaf perennial produces seed pods, in which rest the seeds from which the spice is procured. Depending on the species of plant, the seed pods may have anywhere from 3 to 36 seeds in each pod. Once dried, crushed and prepared, this spice offers a feast for the senses, just one of the reasons cardamom has become known as the “queen of spices”.

Historically, one of the first mentions of this spice is in Sanskrit text from the 4th century BC where, in an ancient Indian treatise on politics called Kautilya’s Arthashasthra, it is passed as an offering. The Arthashasthra, along with other early texts, shows it was already an important spice.

Where you’ll find it used

The historical importance of cardamom no doubt stems from its versatile list of uses. We look at cooking, of course, but cardamom also has medicinal uses. In many parts of the world, cardamom is used to relieve digestive and intestinal problems and heartburn. The list of essential volatile oils contained within cardamom is quite impressive. Some 20 oils, including pinene, myrcene and limonene are present. Sore mouth, teeth and throats may also be healed due to the presence of cineole, a strong antiseptic.

You’ll have no trouble getting the health benefits of cardamom into your food. Curry lovers will know this spice well as it appears as one of the primary notes in garam masala. It is often paired with cashew nuts and coconut in a wide range of Asian dishes; Indian spiced lentil soup, masala murgh, and salmon rendang all feature this warming spice. For the sweet-toothed among you, have a look into Ghoogra (a sweet pastry, try making them yourself) or the broad range of buns, cakes and lassis that are created by pairing cardamom with flavours like rose water, cloves, cinnamon, ginger and almonds.

Cafe Asia pairs the mixture of warmth and spice with a wide range of high-quality herbs and spices to make flavourful and authentic Asian dishes. We’re passionate about Asian food, why not get in touch to get more of a flavour of what we do.

 

Photo credit:

Cardamom plants, India: by Marc Shandro (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons