Despite featuring heavily in Indian, Middle Eastern, Arabic, and Swedish cuisine, cardamom is often lesser known than other spices, hiding away in pre-prepared spice-mixes such as garam masala. But in addition to forming an integral part of key cultural spice-mixes, cardamom is also a delicious flavor in its own right, pairing exceptionally well with a number of common household ingredients and all the while providing a range of health benefits.
So what is cardamom?
Cardamom, also sometimes spelled cardamon, is a spice that consists of either the whole or ground pods or seeds from Elettaria cardamomum or Amomum cardamomum - both of which are plants in the Zingiberaceae family, more commonly known as ginger.
Elettaria cardamomum, also known as green cardamom or true cardamom, is the most popular cardamom variety and is the one that you are most likely to find in your local grocery store or listed in recipes. However, there is a second variety of cardamom to be aware of - Amomum cardamomum - black cardamom.
Cardamom pods are a unique spindle shape. When cut open they have a triangular cross-section and contain dozens of tiny cardamom seeds. Both the seeds and the whole pod are used as spices to flavor dishes with their unique flavor and fragrance - click here to learn more about how to correctly use cardamom in your cooking.
Where does cardamom originate from?
Cardamom has a long and rich history spanning back for more than 4000 years! Growing wild in the Western Ghats in Southern India, the plants grew so abundantly that the area became known as the Cardamom Hills and is still seen by many as the birthplace of cardamom to this day.
Although we often think of cardamom as an ingredient in Indian cuisine, the Ancient Egyptians were actually some of the first people to use cardamom, though not for its flavor, for its medicinal purposes instead - chewing the pods to keep their teeth clean. Meanwhile, the Greeks and the Romans were using the spice to scent their perfumes and oils and the Vikings were taking cardamom back to their homeland of Scandinavia, where it soon became an integral part of their own cooking and culture.
Why is cardamom called the ‘Queen of Spices’?
When researching cardamom online, it isn’t long before the phrase ‘queen of spices’, starts to crop up - but what does it mean?
Put simply, the queen and king of spices, respectively, are cardamom and black pepper, both of which formed an intrinsic part of the early spice trade and, as such, have been labeled the queen and king of spices. As two of the most widely used spices, and with cardamom also the third most expensive spice in the world, this nickname has stuck and so it isn’t uncommon to see the term ‘queen of spices’ used to refer to cardamom even in the modern-day.
So there you have it - a quick introduction to cardamom, what it is, and where it came from. Take a look at some of our other posts in this spice series to learn about where to buy the best quality cardamom and how to store your spices so that they don’t go off.