Cardamom, expensive spice, cultivated in South India

An expensive spice, cardamom in second only to saffron. Records have it that the ancient Egyptians chewed the cardamom seeds as a tooth cleaner. The Europeans, especially the ancient Greeks and Romans used it as a perfume. It acquired fame and so was in great demand in other European countries as well. Apart from English, cardamom is known by the same name with minor spelling change. Cardamom is a plant growing wildly from time immemorial along rain forests in the mountainous terrain of South India, and its seed, known by the same name, is the world-famous spice. The seeds are contained in a pod, roughly triangular in shape. The plant is also grown as a commercial crop now along the hill-tracts of the states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. They call it elam in the local languages of these states. It also grows countries such as Sri Lanka, Viet Nam, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Guatemala and Tanzania in small scale. Famous traditionally as the 'queen of spices' because of its queenly aroma and taste, it belongs to two genera of the ginger family Zingiberaceae, namely Elettaria and Amomum. Both look like a small seedpod and spindle-shaped. Elettaria pods are light green in color, and the other one dark brown. The seeds are pungent, warm and aromatic. Its flavor is eucalyptine with undertones of camphor and lemon. The cultivation of cardamom is along the ever-green rain forests of the Western Ghats in South India. The favorable altitude for it is between 600 and 1500 meters above MSL. The forest is cleared partly for its cultivation, in that the plant needs partial shade and partial sunlight. The plant also needs sufficient irrigation and protection from fungal and bacterial attacks. The yield is collected in the October-December season, dried in the sun or in sulphur fumes.

Cardamom is widely used to flavor coffee and tea, and also certain dishes. It is used in baked goods and confectionaries. Cardamom oil is also used to flavor processed foods, and liquors and in perfumery. Its use in Ayurvedic medicines is wide.