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Cardamom Elettaria cardamomum Black Cardamom Amomum

Turkish Coffee with Dutch Windmill Cookies

One of the world’s most ancient spices, cardamom is found in tropical rain forests and comes from tall plants in the ginger family. Cardamom is also grown in Asia, South America, and the Pacific Islands. The seeds grow in small green pods about the size of cranberries. In this state they are at their peak quality. These seeds are black in color with a strong, spicy fragrance and fresh, sweet taste. Some spice merchants prefer the pods paper white. In this bleached state the seeds are lighter in color with their flavor less intense.

The ancient Egyptians chewed cardamom seeds as a tooth cleaner; the Greeks and Romans used it as a perfume. Vikings came upon cardamom about one thousand years ago, in Constantinople, and introduced it into Scandinavia, where it remains popular to this day. This spice is widely used in Scandinavian cooking. Cardamom is a major spice in curries and is essential in pilafs (rice dishes) and gives character to Indian pulse dishes. Cardamom is often included in Indian sweet dishes and drinks.

Cardamom is also used in the Near and Far East. In the West it is most often found in Dutch ‘windmill’ cookies and Scandinavian style cakes and pastries, and in the liqueur aquavit. At least partially because of its high price, it is seen as a ‘festive’ spice. Other uses are; in pickles, especially pickled herring; in punches and mulled wines; occasionally with meat, poultry and shellfish. It flavors custards, and some Russian liqueurs.

The pods can be used whole or split when cooked in Indian meals, such as pulses. The seeds can be bruised and fried before adding main ingredients to the pan, or pounded with other spices as required. Keep the pods whole until use. The pod itself is neutral in flavor and not commonly used. The pod has an unpleasant bitter flavor when left in dishes.
It is a flavoring for Arab and Turkish coffee which is served with an elaborate ritual. The practice of adding cardamom to coffee is becoming more and more popular here in the west.

The secret to cardamom is to use it sparingly. A little does go a long way.

If you are out of cardamom you may substitute coriander.


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