Cardamom: History, Flavor, Benefits, Uses

What is cardamom?

Aromatic cardamom is a spice made from the combined ground seeds of several plants that are native to India. In countries including Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Bhutan, and Indonesia, cardamom grows wild throughout the countryside. Today, Guatemala is the world’s largest producer, followed by India and Sri Lanka. 

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Pungent and warm, cardamom is a popular spice across the world. Opting for cardamom pods (instead of the seeds or pre-ground powder) helps keep the flavor as potent as possible.

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02/18/2024 10:06 am GMT

Table of Contents

The history of cardamom is closely intertwined with the history of spice trade. Cardamom is native to the Indian subcontinent and was first cultivated in India. It was then exported to ancient Egypt and Greece, where it was used as a perfume and an ingredient in medicinal remedies. The Romans also discovered cardamom and used it to flavor their food. By the Middle Ages, cardamom had become a popular spice in Europe, where it was used to flavor cakes and pastries.

Cardamom flavor profile

This spice has an incredibly unique and characteristic flavor. It is pungent and warm, with distinct undertones of eucalyptus and camphor as well as a hint of lemon flavoring. With a taste that is both peppery and citrusy, cardamom has a bit of warmth to it.

Health benefits of cardamom

This spice is bursting with health benefits. Among the most notable benefits and uses of cardamom are the following:

  • Detoxifies the bodily organs
  • Acts as a mild antidepressant
  • Treats halitosis
  • Inhibits growth of bacteria, fungus, viruses, and mold
  • Reduces pain and swelling
  • Acts as a powerful aphrodisiac
  • Helps the body combat infections
  • Cleanses digestive tract by removing waste, excess water, toxins and salt
  • Relieves symptoms of colds, and flus
  • Helpful in treating bronchitis and coughs
  • Cures mouth ulcers as well as infections of the mouth and throat
  • May be useful in preventing cancer
  • Helps to eliminate hiccups
  • Prevents blood clots
  • Effective in treating intestinal and stomach cramps
  • Counteracts digestive problems including gas, heartburn, bloating, nausea and constipation

Incredibly, these are only a handful of the health benefits known to be associated with this ancient spice. Whether your intentions are culinary or medicinal, this is one spice that has plenty to offer.

Common uses of cardamom

Even today, cardamom continues to be used mainly in the Near and Far East. This spice features in curries and is often included in a variety of Indian sweet dishes and drinks. In pilaus (rice dishes), it is an essential ingredient. Unlike other spices such as cumin that are used quite heavily, cardamom is considered more of a festive spice. The reason for this is—at least in part—due to its high price. Cardamom ranks among the top three most expensive spices in the world.

Other common uses for cardamom include the seasoning of pickles and pickled herring dishes. It is used to flavor punches and mulled wines and is even sometimes found in meat, poultry and shellfish recipes.

Both custards and some Russian liqueurs benefit from the unique aroma and unparalleled flavor profile of cardamom. In the West, it is commonly used in Scandinavian-style cakes and pastries, akavit, and Dutch “windmill” biscuits.

In parts of the world such as the East Indies where cardamom is abundant and readily available, it is often chewed habitually. In addition, this spice is an essential flavoring component of both Arab and Turkish coffees.