Thai Cardamom: Thailand’s Distinctive Cardamom Variety

Thai cardamom originated in southeast Asia and belongs to the same family as green cardamom, which is also known as Indian cardamom. Both Thai and Indian cardamom belong to the Zingiberaceae family to which ginger and turmeric also belong. Thai cardamom’s botanical name is Amomum krervanh, and its common names include Siam cardamom. The Thai people call it luk krawan.

The highest quality Thai cardamom is said to come from the Chanthaburi province in the southern part of Thailand. This region is the source of many dishes that require Thai cardamom. The traditional means of processing Thai cardamom involves drying it immediately after harvest using a wood fire. 

Going back to antiquity, the Thai people have grown and traded cardamom. Chinese merchants would purchase Thai cardamom and sell it to Middle Eastern spice traders. Those spice traders were the middlemen who would pass it to Europeans. During this era, many considered Thia cardamom to be more valuable than the green and black varieties. 

Despite being a relative of green cardamom, Thai cardamom does have a different appearance from that spice and black cardamom. Differences include the fact that Thai cardamom seeds look a lot like garbanzo beans. 

Both the green and Thai cardamoms were known to the Ancient Romans, who regarded them as similar but distinct spices. 

Thai cardamom is used in Chinese medicine and is cultivated in China for that purpose; the Chinese also import it. 

Thai cardamom flavor profile 

Thai cardamom has a similar flavor profile to that of green cardamom, but less camphoraceous and more floral with notes of lemon. The fragrance of Thai cardamom also has hints of mint. It is less pungent than green cardamom, but still similar enough that you can use it as a substitute. Use more of it if you are replacing green cardamom in a dish. 

Health benefits of Thai cardamom 

Thai cardamom is a good source of several volatile oils that have significant health benefits. Those oils include: 

  • Pinene: Among pinene’s valuable properties is its ability to help with respiratory ailments — it is a bronchodilator. 
  • Cineole: Like pinene, cineole is valuable for respiratory health. It is an expectorant and antispasmodic. 

The compounds above and others make Thai cardamom useful for treating and preventing health problems like: 

  • Inflammation: Studies have shown Thai cardamom to have strong anti-inflammatory effects, which means that it can be beneficial for preventing everything from heart attacks to rheumatoid arthritis. 
  • Digestive ailments: Thai cardamom has numerous benefits when it comes to aiding digestion and treating gastrointestinal issues. Those benefits range from relieving heartburn and preventing vomiting to treating constipation. 
  • Foodborne illness: The essential oil in Thai cardamom has antimicrobial properties that make it useful for killing the bacteria that cause foodborne illness. It is effective against Bacillus subtilis and Escherichia coli. 
  • Fevers: Practitioners of traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine use Thai cardamom as a febrifuge. 

Common uses 

Thai cardamom is one of the key ingredients in the massaman curry from southern Thailand. Other Thai curries like kaeng karee and kaeng phanaeng include Thai cardamom as does the beef noodle soup known as kuai tiao neua. It is used in other parts of southeast Asia as well. For example, it is one of the spices used to flavor Vietnamese pho broth. Ground Thai cardamom is used in chai seasoning as well as in desserts.