A member of the ginger family, cardamom is almost as highly prized as saffron and is certainly one of the most intoxicating spices. It’s an important ingredient in curry powders and garam masala (a blend of spices). Whole cardamom pods are used to infuse liquids or curries, and the seeds, extracted from the pods, are used whole or ground. Green cardamom is natural; white pods have been bleached with sulphur. Take your pick! There is also a somewhat larger hairy brown variety which is mainly used in rice dishes such as biriani.
The pods, picked before they ripen and spill their seeds, are the fruit of a tree which grows up to 5m (15 feet) tall. There are around 10-30 small seeds inside each pod loosely held together with what resembles a moth thread. The pods store well for a year or more but once ground into powder quickly lose the alluring warm and gingery, sweetish citrussy scent underlined with camphor-box and pine. Whole pods can be cooked with rice or a stew but are not intended to be eaten because they become bitter.
An ancient spice, cardamom made its way to Europe through the caravan routes. The best comes from south India, but it is grown in Thailand, Sri Lanka and Guatemala and turns up in Scandanavian breads and African stews.
Cardamom is a good digestive, aiding stomach disorders and relieving heart burn. It’s also used as a breath freshener and to ease a sore throat.
Keep them in the dark
Spice are light sensitive so are best stored in a pantry, not on display in a spice rack. Don’t store them in plastic as the plastic will absorb the spice flavour, and worse still, the spices may absorb the smell of plastic and become tainted. Glass jars with tight fitting lids or small tins are best for storage.