If you guessed cardamom, you’d be right! This tropical spice is native to India but now most of the world’s production comes from Guatemala and Costa Rica. True cardamom or green cardamom are what most know as cardamom. There are however other varieties. The cardamom pods grow at the bottom of the stems just above the ground. On my recent trip to South India, I saw many cardamom bushes in my family’s coffee estates. Here’s a short video and my lucky find.
The fresh, floral and woody aromas of cardamom are best highlighted in contrast with milder flavors such as rice puddings. Simply sprinkling some freshly ground cardamom on sweet lassis or other desserts wakes up the taste buds and adds sophistication! In Indian cooking, cardamom is used in savory dishes and spice blends. Whole pods are often used in rice dishes. One of my favorite uses for cardamom is undoubtedly in Indian Chai.
I recommend buying organic to ensure that the cardamom has not been chemically treated to maintain its green color. Better quality crop will naturally retain its bright green color. You can see the difference in shades in the photo below. The green cardamom pods will fade and lose flavor over time.
There are two broad varieties of true cardamom, Mysore and Malabar. Green cardamom is typically of the Mysore variety. Malabar cardamom pods start turning white on the plant when their flavor peaks. After harvesting, the pods are sun dried or chemically bleached to make a uniform white. Most of the white cardamom available in the US has been bleached and is therefore considered inferior. But the Malabar cardamom, according to On Food and Cooking has a high concentration of the more delicate flavor compounds. By organic white cardamom from a trusted source to ensure it has not been chemically bleached.
The cardamom in the video above is of the malabar variety.
Pods of black cardamom are larger than true cardamom. It is also called Nepal, Chinese or brown cardamom. The flavor of true cardamom is much more complex than that of black cardamom owing to the presence of more flavor compounds. The pods are smoke dried resulting in a spice with a smoky flavor. Black cardamom is used in many North Indian spice blends.
According to Gernod Katzer’s Spice Pages, there are many other varieties of cardamom grown in Vietnam, Indonesia and so on. One variety that I just learned about has piqued my curiosity: Ethiopian Korarima. Like in India, korarima often grows wild with coffee plants. It is freshly roasted and used to flavor coffee much like gahwa or Middle Eastern cardamom coffee. It is also included in one of my favorite spice blends berbere.