A Brief Introduction
Cardamom, an aromatic spice is a member of the ginger family Elettaria cardamomum. This small pungent seed is used worldwide for flavouring variety of items including coffee, curries and desserts. It is one of the most valued spices of the world and was the principal item of trade in the ancient world. A native to the East, it has its origin in the forests of the western ghats in southern India. This spice also grows in Sri Lanka, Guatemala and Tanzania.There are the two main genera of the ginger family ‘Zingiberaceae’ that are named as forms of cardamom, namely Elettaria and Amomum. Both varieties take the form of a small seedpod, triangular in cross-section and spindle-shaped, with a thin papery outer shell and small black seeds. Elettaria pods are light green in color, while Amomum pods are larger and dark brown.

There are many inferior substitutes are available from cardamom-related plants like Siam Cardamom, Nepal Cardamom, Winged Java Cardamom, and Bastard Cardamom. Malabar cardamom and Mysore cardamom are the two major varieties of Indian cardamom. Although India is the largest producer of cardamom, only a small share of the Indian production is exported because of the large domestic demand.
Cardamom in Other Languages 
  • English: Cardamon or Cardamom
  • French: Cardamome
  • German: Kardamom
  • Italian: Cardamomo, cardamone
  • Spanish: Cardamomo
  • Burmese: Phalazee
  • Chinese: Ts’ao-k’ou
  • Indian: Chhoti elachi, e(e)lachie, ela(i)chi, illaichi
  • Indonesian: Kapulaga
  • Malay: Buah pelaga
  • Sinhalese: Enasal
  • Tamil: Elam
  • Thai: Grawahn, kravan

Cardamom Plant
Cardamom is a perennial herb that can reach a height of between 2 to almost 6 m.  The sword shaped leaves of the plant are dark green in colour which are about 2 inches long. The small, yellowish flowers grow in loose racemes on prostrate flower stems. The fruit has 3 chambers filled with small aromatic seeds, each about 3 mm long. It is better to store the fruit in pod form, because once the seeds are exposed or ground, they quickly lose their flavour.

Cardamom grows in the tropics, wild and in plantations. It is traditionally grown in partially cleared tropical rain forests, leaving some shade. The plant requires humid and moderately cool climate, filtered sunlight obtained from tree canopy, humus rich soil, well-distributed rainfall and protection from heavy winds.

History of Cardamom
For centuries this sweet and aromatic spice has been widely used for its pleasing aroma and medicinal properties. The medical compendium Charaka Samhita written between the 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD refers to it as an ingredient in some preparations. Cardamom is also mentioned in Sanskrit texts of the 4th century BC in a treatise on politics called Kautilya’s Arthashasthra and in Taitirriya Samhita where it is used in offerings during ceremonies.

Cardamom was used as a tooth cleaner by the ancient Egyptians and as a perfume by the Greeks and Romans. The ancient Greeks around the 4th century B.C highly valued the cardamom as a culinary spice and as a base for herbal medicines. Cardamom trade was an important part trade links between India and the Mediterranean region.

Culinary Uses
Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intensely aromatic fragrance. This sweet spice is used as flavorings in both food and drink. It features in curries, is essential in pilaus (rice dishes) and gives character to pulse dishes. Cardamom is a major ingredient in Indian sweet dishes and drinks. This spice is often used in pickles, especially pickled herring; in punches and mulled wines; and sometimes with meat, poultry and shellfish.A mild stimulant, cardamom is also chewed habitually (like nuts) where freely available, as in the East Indies, and in the Indian masticory, betel pan. It is a flavouring for Arab and Turkish coffee which is served with an elaborate ritual. It is often used in baking in Scandinavia. The French use it in their demi-tasse. Cardamom added to milk neutralizes its mucus forming properties and it detoxifies caffeine in coffee.

Medicinal Properties

Cardamom is widely used to bring relief from digestive problems in Ayurveda. Though they are not used in western medicines for their medicinal properties, but are used as a flavouring agent for medicinal preparations. In the ancient world, cardamom was used to bring relief from digestive problems.

In India, green cardamom is broadly used to treat infections in teeth and gums, to prevent and treat throat troubles, congestion of the lungs and pulmonary tuberculosis, inflammation of eyelids and also digestive disorders. It is also reportedly used as an antidote for both snake and scorpion venom.