Cardamom - Green
Category : Hints, Tips and Tricks
The cardamom plant is a tropical, shade-loving perennial with long, light green, lance-shaped leaves growing 3 to 6 feet (1 to 2 m) high, similar in appearance to a ginger plant or lily. The leaves are slightly shiny on top, dull underneath and when bruised or cut release a delicate, camphorous aroma reminiscent of a lime-scented fragrance. An unusual feature of cardamom is that it grows from a rhizome. The flowers are borne on stems that emerge at the base of the plant and tend to spread out, close to the base, almost on the ground. The small (1/3 to 1/2 inch/8 to 10 mm) delicate white flowers have about 10 fine purple streaks radiating from the center, almost like a miniature orchid. The pods or capsules form after pollination of the flowers.
Dried cardamom pods are pale green, oval, knobbly in shape and about 1/2 to 3/4 inch (1 to 2 cm) long. When the papery husk is broken open, three seed segments, each containing three to four brown-black, oily, pungent seeds, are revealed. The taste of the seeds is warm, camphorous and eucalypt, pleasantly astringent and refreshing on the palate. Green cardamom should not be confused with brown cardamom (see p. 154), which, although related, has a completely different appearance and flavor.
Another variety of cardamom is Thai cardamom. Its dried pods have a similar papery husk to the green variety; however, its shape is more spherical, and it is usually pale cream in color. Thai cardamom has a more delicate flavor and aroma than green and is less camphorous.
Origin and History:
Green cardamom is native to the western ghats in the south of India, where it is referred to as the "Queen of Spices." It thrives in the shady monsoon forests one sees enveloped in soft morning mists at altitudes over 3,300 feet (1,000 m) above sea level. Cardamom is also native to Sri Lanka and up until the 19th century was harvested in India and Sri Lanka from wild plants in the rainforests, orderly cultivation only really taking place in the 20th century.
There is a degree of confusion about the history of cardamom, as some historical records give sketchy and conflicting descriptions of cardamom when compared to the spice we know and love as cardamom today. There is a view that "cardamom" was a term loosely used to describe a number of spices, borne out by the fact that it is often quoted as having grown in the hanging gardens of Babylon, a place where the climatic conditions would not have been ideal for green cardamom to thrive and bear fruit, in 720 BC.
There are descriptions from the fourth century AD that describe cardamom as coming from a vine. Probably the most likely confusion was its similarity botanically to Melegueta pepper, or grains of paradise (see p. 285), another member of the Zingiberaceae family. Nonetheless, if the spice referred to was cardamom, or something similar, it was mentioned in the fourth century BC as an article of Greek trade. The Greek word kardamomum was used to describe the so-called superior grade, and the ancient Semetic word amomum, meaning "very spicy," was used to describe the inferior grade. It is interesting to note that the botanical name for brown cardamom is Cardamomum amomum, a variety commonly held up as being inferior; however, I prefer to classify it as being simply different. In the first century AD, Rome was importing large amounts of cardamom, and it was included as one of the most popular Oriental spices in Roman cuisine. In addition to its use in cooking, cardamom was valued for its ability to clean the teeth and sweeten one's breath after meals, especially those heavily laden with garlic.
Buying and Storage:
The best-quality green cardamom pods are an even lime green color and should not look pale or bleached. Avoid pods that are splitting open at the end, as this is an indication that they were harvested too late, resulting in a lower volatile oil content after drying. Green cardamom seeds are dark brown in color but they are called "green" after the green pod they come from. Look for a distinct, almost eucalyptus aroma and slight oiliness to the touch. The seeds do lose their flavor more rapidly after being removed from the pods, so unless you are a heavy user, buying the whole pods is recommended.
Powdered cardamom seed should be avoided unless you know it has been recently ground and is packed in a high-barrier material that keeps the flavor in. The color should be dark gray; if too light in color and slightly fibrous in appearance, it is an indication that the whole pods, and not the seeds alone, have been ground. As the outer husk of the pod has little flavor, this is not desirable. Once pulverized, the volatile flavor notes in cardamom will dissipate rapidly, so it is doubly important that the basic rules of spice storage are observed. Always keep in airtight packs and avoid extremes of heat, light and humidity.
Green cardamom is a versatile and useful spice, being equally complementary to sweet and savory foods. Although it is a pungent spice and should be added to dishes sparingly, the fresh top flavor notes in green cardamom make a zestful addition to a wide range of meals. Traditionally, cardamom has been used to flavor Danish pastries, cakes, biscuits and fruit dishes. The Indians include it in many curries, and in the Middle East it is an enhancement to coffee. This is achieved by pushing a split cardamom pod into the narrow coffee pot spout. When the coffee is poured, it filters past the bruised cardamom, creating a refreshing taste. Next time you make plunger coffee, try putting a few bruised cardamom pods in the pot with the grounds for a delicious taste.
Cardamom pods are usually included in biryani rice dishes, and a wonderful flavor dimension can be added to boiled rice by putting one or two bruised cardamom pods in the water during cooking. Cardamom complements milk puddings and custards and marries well with citrus fruits and mangoes. Halved grapefruits, sprinkled with a little sugar and ground cardamom seeds, make a tasty breakfast.
Many recipes require a bruised cardamom pod. A gentle thump with a rolling pin or pressing down firmly on the pod with the flat of a knife will burst some of the volatile oil-containing cells and allow the flavor to amalgamate more readily with the other ingredients. Even when using seeds removed from the pod, slight bruising is recommended for the best effect. For those of you who want to grind cardamom seeds at home, this can be done in a pepper mill or coffee grinder. When finished, simply grind about a tablespoonful of rice to clean the contact surfaces of the mill and carry any residual flavor away.
Source: The Spice and Herb Bible
Weight Per Teaspoon (5 ml):
whole seeds: 4.4 g
ground seeds: 3.5 g
Suggested Quantity per Pound (500 g):
red meats: 2 teaspoons(10 mL) seeds
white meats: 2 teaspoons (10 mL) seeds
vegetables: 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 mL) seeds
carbohydrates: 1 1/2 teaspoons (7 mL) seeds
cakes and biscuits
sweets and milk puddings
ras el hanout
satay spice blends
tagine spice blends