We have used green cardamoms in my home kitchen for as long as I can remember, both for Indian meals and other spiced dishes.
Green cardamom plant
Cardamom flower and unripe pods
Green cardamom fruit pods
Cardamom is native to South India and Sri Lanka. Although these countries are the largest producers of cardamom, only a small part of production is exported because of large domestic demand. The main exporting country today is Guatemala, where cardamom cultivation was introduced less than a century ago and the crop is grown entirely for export.
Seeds. Because the seeds lose fragrance rather quickly, the fruits (pods) are normally sold and often used whole, or chopped with the seeds.
Zingiberaceae (ginger family).
Sweet and aromatic, usually described as very pleasant.
The spice has similar names in almost all European languages, e.g. cardamom (German), kardemomme (Norwegian, Danish), cardamomo (Italian, Portuguese, Spanish) and kardamon (Polish, Croatian, Bulgarian and Russian).
The Greek name kardamōmon is recorded for a spice of Persian origin, but this was probably cress, whereas in Modern Greek the name kardamo can stand for both cardamom and cress. Roman sources tell of the similar spices amomum and cardamomum, both of Eastern origin and probably different varieties of cardamom.
In the New Testament the name amōmon appears in reference to an aromatic plant and may derive from the adjective amōmos "without reproach". The genus name elettaria is derived from the name in Indian languages, e.g. Hindi elaichi and Punjabi ilaichi. The common source is Sanskrit, where cardamom is called ela or ellka. From the corresponding Dravidian root el, many modern names of cardamom are directly derived, e.g. Tamil elakkai.
Cardamom is often called "the third most expensive spice in the world" (after saffron and vanilla) and the high price reflects the reputation of this most pleasantly scented spice. Despite numerous applications in the cooking styles of Sri Lanka, India and Iran, 60% of world production is exported to Arab countries where it is used to prepare coffee. Cardamom-flavoured coffee qahwa al-arabiya is a symbol of Arab hospitality, prepared by adding freshly ground seeds to coffee powder or by steeping a few pods in hot coffee.
Cardamom is also used for cookery in the spicy mixture baharat from the Arabic peninsular and in the fiery chilli paste zhoug from Yemen. It is often employed for rice-and-meat dishes, e.g. Arabic kabsah and machboos. To prepare these, meats (sometimes vegetables) are braised in a thick, aromatic sauce and uncooked rice is added and cooked slowly so that it absorbs the sauce and all its flavour.
Indian biryani is made by placing layers of cooked rice and aromatic meat or vegetable stews in a large pot. After addition of dried fruits and nuts, the pot is sealed and heated in the oven so that the different flavours mingle. Cardamom is also popular in North and East Africa, where the population is predominantly Arabic. It appears in the Moroccan mixture ras el hanout and in the Ethiopian spice mix berbere.
In European cuisines, cardamom is less well-known but appears in biscuit recipes (e.g. German lebkuchen). European use is low, except in Scandinavian countries, where cardamom is popular not only for biscuits and sweet breads but also for pastries and sausages.
In the Mogul cuisine, cardamom is found in several mild meat dishes in which the pods are fried together with onion, Indian bay leaves and other sweet spices to intensify their fragrance. In Sri Lanka, the pods are added to fiery beef or chicken curries, together with cinnamon. Indian cardamom is slightly smaller than Sri Lankan cardamom, but is generally considered to be more aromatic.
Cardamom-flavoured sweets are found across India, e.g. gajar halva, a creamy dessert made from milk, grated carrots, palm sugar and ground cardamom. Sometimes curry powder contains small amounts of cardamom and it is also frequently added to the North Indian garam masala, especially in Kashmir where Mogul influence is particularly strong. Kashmiri people like sweet green tea flavoured with cardamom pods.
Cardamom seeds lose their flavour quickly when ground. Even if left whole, the seeds show a loss of about 40% of the essential oil per year. Therefore, only whole cardamom pods should be bought and the pods crushed prior to use. Green pods are significantly superior in fragrance to the yellow or white bleached ones. Black (or brown) cardamom is a collective name for several cardamom-related plants growing in mountains from Central Africa to Vietnam. Nepalese cardamom is most often traded in the West. The taste of this spice differs significantly from that of green cardamom and neither can act as a substitute for the other.