Guilty Pleasure: the case for cardamom

Lately I just can’t seem to get enough of cardamom.

On any given day you’ll catch me sprinkling it’s powder on breakfast porridge, popping a couple of pods into a pot of rice, adding it’s fragrant crushed seeds to chai, or even dropping a heavy pinch with some cayenne pepper into a hot chocolate.

Although sometimes touted as a ‘fad’ spice, it’s actually been a popular and lucrative trading spice since ancient times with the Babylonians, Assyrians and Ancient Greeks all singing it’s praises as a digestive aid (it’s also now recognised as an anti-inflammatory in oral health).

With it’s complicated aroma and distinctive ‘piney’ taste, it’s just as at home in a savoury dish as a sweet – making a base ingredient in Indian and Nepalese masala curries as well as Nordic baking where it’s used in traditional sweet breads and buns.

Related to ginger and turmeric, cardamom grows as a rhizome root from another plant. The shoots reach 3-4m into the air, but the small white and purple flowers that produce the fruit (pods) are close to the ground.

A highly laborious spice to cultivate, cardamom is the world’s third most expensive spice with price per weight falling just below saffron and vanilla (which I can verify with a recent purchase of organic green cardamom pods from my local health food store at the whopping price of $192/kg).

Although native to South India, it’s now grown in many parts of the world including China, Central America and Papua New Guinea. In fact, since the early 2000’s Guatemala has outranked India as the largest producer of cardamom in the world after it was introduced there in 1914 by a German coffee grower.

Being such a powerful spice, a little goes a long way and it can become bitter when overdone (as I’ve discovered many times), so if you’re giving this beautiful warming spice a try for the first time I suggest testing it out in a recipe such as this potato cauliflower curry from one of my favourite recipe makers: The Minimalist Baker.

PS A side note to the uninitiated: pods hold their fragrance and flavour better than ground (although, being a cardamom addict, I of course have both). There are also green and black cardamom varieties though I am yet to see black cardamom regularly available in Australia.