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Common Name

Latin Name Family Country/Origin
Elettaria cardamomum Zingiberaceae India; Sri Lanka

Cardamom is one of the world's most expensive spices, following close on the heels of precious and pricey saffron and vanilla.  In India, cardamom is known as Elaichi.

History tells us that his strong flavored spice was used by the Vikings and Ancient Egyptians alike. The Vikings brought it to Northern European countries where it is now more popular than cinnamon.

Used as a medicine in ancient Rome and Greece, cardamom has an extensive culinary repertoire and is a staple ingredient in Turkish and Arab coffee.

In fact most of the world's cardamom is imported into the Middle East where it is used to make Arab coffee, a symbol of hospitality. Traditionally cardamom is ground together with coffee beans, but is sometimes simply steeped directly in a cup of coffee.

With a warm, sweet, strongly aromatic smell, cardamom seeds are actually the seeds from the fruit of small bush related to ginger. Elettaria cardamomum produces pods filled with seeds that are hand picked and dried in the sun. Pods can be white, green or black, depending on how they were dried. With a texture like paper, whole pods can be purchased or simply the seeds. This uniquely flavored spice, has a heavy, almost spicy flavor, but with sweet undertones that are sometimes referred to as mint-like.

Versatile cardamom is enjoyed in a variety of ways world over and is an excellent addition to sweet breads and cookies, curries, vegetables, meat dishes, coffee and tea.  Brown cardamom is generally not suitable for sweet dishes.

Purported Medicinal Qualities*

Recorded history implies that cardamom has been used as a medicine for hundreds of years. Established as a key ingredient in many Asian and Indian traditional medicines, cardamom is relatively unknown in Western medicine except as a flavor or complementary ingredient to other substances. Yet, cardamom on its own has many medicinal properties that have been said to cure all manner of ailments from digestive problems to tooth infections.

Historically cardamom has been used to:

  • Aid digestion and stomach upset
  • Soothe sore throat and gums
  • As a carminative
  • Reduce heartburn aid
  • Stimulate and heighten the senses

*Always check with your healthcare provider before consuming, inhaling, applying or otherwise ingesting any non-prescription of prescription natural or homeopathic substance of pharmaceutical. is not recommending, suggesting, inferring or otherwise endorsing the use of any herb or spice as a medicine or therapeutic remedy.

Culinary/Suggested Use

Although sixty percent of the world's cardamom is imported to Arab countries to be used in coffee, cardamom is used as a spice all over the world. In Scandinavian countries it is more popular than cinnamon and used in cookies, sweets, breads and even sausages.

In India and Sri Lanka it is added to many curries, as well as traditional chai tea. Northern and Eastern African cooks use it in many Arab-inspired dishes.  Food for thought:

  • For homemade chai tea combine a few cardamom pods, a broken cinnamon stick, a few cloves and a teaspoon of loose black tea in 1/3 cup of water and 2/3 cup of milk and simmer gently for 15 minutes, then strain and enjoy.
  • Buy whole pods whenever possible and do not grind or crush them until immediately before use.
  • Remove the pod before crushing or grinding to avoid a bitter taste.
  • Lightly toast seeds in a frying pan before adding to a dish. Toasting imparts a slight nutlike quality and sweetens the seeds.
  • Grind cardamom seeds with your coffee beans for a Middle Eastern flavor
  • Cardamom can be substituted for cinnamon or nutmeg in sweet recipes
  • Add ½ teaspoon of freshly ground cardamom to your favorite cookie recipe

view other A-Z Spices