Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Cardamoms and Their Differences


Green Cardamom - Elettaria cardamomum

Green Cardamom Pods & Seeds
Cardamom is an ancient spice, existing in India more than a thousand years before the birth of Christ. It is the third most expensive spice, after saffron and vanilla. The spice eventually reached Europe along the caravan routes. Ancient Greece and Rome valued cardamom as an ingredient in perfumes, as well as breath fresheners and digestive aids. These days, outside of the Eastern and Middle-Eastern countries where it is most known, the Scandinavian countries are the biggest importers of cardamom, using it to flavor their spiced cakes, pastries and breads.

Green cardamom pods come from a perennial bush of the ginger family that can grow to up to 12 feet tall. It is native to India, and grows wild in rain forests of southern India and Sri Lanka, at relatively low altitudes. The plant will only flower and fruit in tropical climates. Guatemala is now the largest exporter of cardamom, even more so than India. The plant needs wet soil and heat to grow and bear the little fruits, harvested just before fully ripe and dried, either in the sun, similarly to coffee, or in special drying rooms. The very best dried cardamom pods are pale greenish in color. Each half-inch paper-like pod holds approximately 12 to 20 dark brown or black highly aromatic seeds. It is best to buy either whole pods or whole seeds that have been removed from the pod. The pods themselves have little flavor and commercially it is too easy to grind the whole pod together, thus lowering the price and the quality of the ground spice.

Grinding the seeds is simple in a mortar and pestle or a small spice grinder, and one is assured of the quality of the product. Many dishes in India call for whole, unbroken or only slightly crushed pods to be used. Anyone who has eaten Indian cuisine, or cooked Indian dishes, knows well how often cardamom is an ingredient. It is almost always used in a Garam Masala mixture, often seen as an ingredient in Northern Indian dishes such as rice biryani, creamed spinach and dhal. In addition to its use in savory dishes, cardamom is used extensively in breads and sweets.

Black Cardamom, top. Green Cardamom, bottom
Cardamom has a lovely flavor and aroma, quite penetrating and strongly aromatic. While it is one of the most expensive spices, very little is needed to impart flavor. An Indian dessert called Gulab Jamun uses the seeds ground in either the little balls of dough before frying, or in their syrup, or both. In northern European countries it is used in Stollen breads as well as many other cakes, pastries and cookies. In some places in the Middle East, cardamom is mixed with green coffee beans and roasted together and ground. Some of these mixtures may have as much as 40 percent cardamom. There are also white cardamom pods commercially available, and some feel these are superior. In reality, these are no more than bleached pods of the green cardamom. If cardamom is not yet known in your lexicon of spices, search for it in a good quality spice shop and try it out.



Black Cardamom - Amomum subulatum 

Black Cardamom pods and seeds
Black Cardamom or Hill Cardamom is related to green cardamom and are both from the ginger family, but there the comparison stops. The flavors of black cardamom are far different and do not lend to use in sweet dishes. The seed pods are larger and coarser and have a camphor like flavor and a smoky character from the method of drying over fires. It is commonly used in savory dhal or rice mixtures, and in some northern Indian garam masalas.





My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies. 

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