saturday spice: cardamom, “queen of spices”


Six years ago, my local favorite coffeeshop back home tried as its summer specialty to make a caramel cardamom iced latte. Six years ago, I wasn’t yet a fan of the spice, so I bought the latte out of curiosity (now will someone please pay me for my gustatory curiosity???) and suffered through it. Over the years, I’ve developed a taste for cardamom and now I can’t get enough, as anyone who has ever looked at this blog can affirm.

My favorite use of cardamom: in tomato curry. Swoon. 


[cardamom, elettaria cardamomum, india]

Known as “Queen of Spices,” and second only to black pepper, “King of Spices,” cardamom has an extensive history and a very, very high value (don’t I know it.)

Originally native to India, cardamom was introduced to the rest of the world thousands of years ago by traders, who carried it from India to Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Much later, the Vikings discovered the spice in Constantinople/Byzantine when that was the capital of the spice trade, and claimed it for use in their rich, buttery pastries (cardamom is fat-soluble, so the flavor intensifies in butter) (3.)

Cardamom, known in the scientific community as Elettaria Cardamomum, is a relative of ginger, and it grows in lush tropical rainforests. After India, the largest producer of cardamom is Guatemala, where the spice is produced solely for export. Harvest is done from October through December, before the pods of the plant ripen so they don’t split open too early and begin to lose flavor.

After saffron and vanilla, cardamom is the third most expensive spice in the world (and the most expensive in my cabinet. I vow never to buy a jar of saffron because I enjoy all of my arms and legs.) Because of its high price, the spice is often adulterated or substituted with products of lesser quality, such as Siam cardamom, Nepal cardamom, winged Java cardamom, or a something known as “bastard” cardamom. (1)



why is it so expensive?

Because it’s harvested by hand (3), and anyone who’s been outside from October through December knows it is not a pleasant time to be harvesting anything but snot-cicles from their nose. Fortunately, it’s also a very strong spice and you only need a small amount.

In ancient Egypt, people chewed the buds to clean their teeth, while in Greece and Rome, only the wealthiest could afford cardamom-infused perfume. I’m very much content using a toothbrush to clean my teeth, and YSL as my cologne, but cardamom is also good for digestion (it certainly helped me digest the cardamom brownies.) (1)



there are two main strains of the spice:

Green and black, with some other local varieties in other countries. Green cardamom, or “true cardamom” (elettaria cardamomum), comes from southwest India and is also grown in Guatemala, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, and Costa Rica. This is the type used most often in powder form for baking, and it’s also the most highly-valued of the cardamom family. Black cardamom (amomum subulatum), is native to Nepal, Bhutan, India, and China. It has a bolder flavor than its green counterpart, so it’s more fitting for meat rubs and stews, rather than in delicate pastries. Black cardamom is used whole, then discarded (3), while green cardamom can be used as whole pods, split pods, whole seeds, or ground. The flavor disappears rapidly so it’s best purchased whole and used quickly, if you can afford it. (1)

In Scandinavia, you can find cardamom in sweets and meatballs (mmmmmmmmeatballs), and a liquor called akvavit. (1)



what can I make with this so-called “queen of spices”?

Stumped on where to start? That sucks for you.

I’m kidding. Every chance I get, I use cardamom in my own baking so here are all the recipes I’ve posted on this blog that use the spice:

pumpkin streusel muffins | | vegan spiced banana nut muffins | | cardamom brownies | | cardamom ginger molasses cookies | | cardamom shortbread

In fact, a few of my upcoming recipes also feature cardamom. It’s not only Queen of the Spices, but it’s a popular holiday spice, as well.





Nick P.

upcoming saturday spices:




Categories: food history, saturday spice

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