Black Cardamom: History, Flavor, Benefits, Uses

What is black cardamom?

Black cardamom is one of those spices that has a variety of aliases. Black cardamom also goes by Nepal cardamom and brown cardamom, among other names. Like its relative green cardamom, black cardamom belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, so it is also related to ginger. The botanical name of black cardamom is Amomum subulatum, and it is native to the Himalayan region though it is grown in many other parts of the world.

Table of Contents

Black cardamom was known to the ancient Arabs Greeks and Romans. Ancient Arabs used the spice as an aphrodisiac while the Ancient Greeks and Romans used it in perfumes.

Today, black cardamom is still used as a medicine by Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners. Ayurveda and Unani are two other forms of traditional medicine that also use black cardamom in medicinal applications. Black cardamom is grown in the region of China where it borders Vietnam, and in parts of Africa like Somalia and Cameroon.

Black cardamom flavor profile

One of the distinctive flavor and aroma notes of black cardamom is its smokiness, which comes from the practice of drying the spice over an open flame. Other notes include those of pine, eucalyptus, and camphor. People often describe black cardamom as having an astringent flavor that stops short of being bitter.

Health benefits

Like most spices, Black cardamom is believed to have some valuable health benefits that come from some of the same compounds responsible for its flavor and fragrance. The benefits come from:

  • Terpenes: The terpenes in black cardamom are believed to have major anti-inflammatory benefits.
  • Minerals: Black cardamom is a great source of the essential mineral potassium, along with trace amounts of some others like magnesium.
  • Cardamonin: The highly beneficial compound cardamonin is categorized as a chalcone and is found in several plants within the Zingiberaceae family including black cardamom.
  • Fiber: Studies have found black cardamom to be a good source of complex carbohydrates.

With black cardamom as a regular part of your diet, you may be able to treat or prevent health problems like:

  • Metabolic syndrome: Research conducted on rats has shown that black cardamom can help to improve symptoms of metabolic syndrome. In particular, Black cardamom can help to improve the functions of both the heart and the liver.
  • Inflammation: Black cardamom’s anti-inflammatory properties may combat inflammatory conditions like osteoarthritis, and it may lower your risk of developing cancer.
  • Cancer: Separate from the spice’s other anticancer properties, the cardamonin in black cardamom has been found to have powerful anti-cancer properties.
  • Obesity: Black cardamom contains fiber, which has been shown to help reduce obesity and fight certain cancers.
  • Type 2 diabetes: The fiber and anti-inflammatory terpenes in black cardamom may contribute to a lower type 2 diabetes risk.

Common uses

Because of its smoky flavor, black cardamom — unlike green cardamom — is mainly used for savory dishes. Black cardamom is one of the main ingredients in the Indian spice blend garam masala, in which cooks usually combine it with cinnamon and coriander seed. It is common to toast or fry black cardamom to release its flavors before using it in garam masala and other applications.

Aside from garam masala, Indian cooks use black cardamom in biryanis and dal dishes as well as curries. Black cardamom is also used in some versions of Chinese five-spice powder, and it shows up in Chinese stews and similar braised dishes.