What do some intoxicating men’s perfumes, such as YSL La Nuit De L’Homme, Tom Ford Noir Extreme and The Most Wanted by Azzaro have in common with your spice cabinet? All of these have the luxurious, woody, spicy top note of cardamom. It’s the same strong, sweet, spicy flavour that cardamom brings to food.
Both the green and the black cardamom belong to the same family as ginger and turmeric. The green cardamom is grown predominantly in the Western Ghats, in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Green cardamom is also cultivated in Guatemala, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Tanzania. India isn’t the leading producer, contrary to what you may think.
Guatemala is, in fact, the world’s leading producer and exporter of green cardamom. It all started with the experiments of a German coffee planter, Oscar Majus Klöffer, who first planted it in that country in 1914 to add diversity to the local agriculture. By 2000, Guatemala had become the leading producer of this originally Indian spice. Cobán, a town in Guatemala with a population of around 230,000 people, is entirely dependent on the cardamom industry.
While green cardamom is a popular spice in Indian cooking, in both sweet and savoury dishes, it is also used in baking in Nordic countries like Sweden Norway and Finland, in sweet breads, buns and cookies. Skolebrød (school bread) is a Norwegian sweet roll with custard, cardamom and grated coconut. Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest consumer and importer of green cardamom—the reason is their coffee. For, while we Indians associate elaichi with chai, the Arabic world uses it extensively in coffee. Lightly roasted green coffee beans are powdered and boiled along with ground cardamom seeds for cardamom-flavoured coffee. Speciality brands sell a coffee-cardamom blend for home brewing which usually has 4-5% of ground cardamom in coffee.
Green cardamom adds a blast of flavour to food, so you should find more ways to use it in dishes beyond chai and biryani. But here are a few things to remember while using cardamom.
• Don’t interchange the black for the green cardamom and vice versa. Their flavour profiles and aromas are rather unique. Black cardamom suits savoury dishes most, while green cardamom works in both.
• Don’t buy ground cardamom. Most commercial cardamom powders use the whole pod and not just the seeds, diluting the flavour somewhat. Also, powdered spices tend to lose their aroma in six months while whole spices can retain their potency for up to five years.
• Don’t use it cold. We tend to store expensive spices like cardamom in the freezer or the fridge to keep them pest-free and fresher for longer. Toast the cardamom pods taken out from the refrigerator on a low flame before crushing them for use in tea or any other spice blend. This wakes up the essential oils and makes the flavours more intense.
• Don’t be heavy-handed. I once came across a recipe for two cups of chai that asked for 12 pods (!!!) of cardamom. Even as someone who loves elaichi, I would be put off cardamom (and chai) for life if someone served this drink to me. Respect the intensity of cardamom.
Makes 2 cups
2-3 pods of green cardamom
1 stick cinnamon
2 tsp black tea (CTC or Assam)
1 cup milk (dairy or plant-based)
2-3 tsp sugar
Lightly toast the spices on a low flame. Crush in a mortar pestle.
In a small pan, take one-and-a-quarter cups of water and add the crushed spices. Bring to a boil and simmer for three-four minutes. Add the tea and simmer on a low flame for two-three minutes.
Meanwhile, bring the milk to a boil along with the sugar and froth the milk using a milk frother or a whisk. Pass the black tea through a fine sieve into two cups. Divide the frothed hot milk between the two cups, topping each cup with some milk foam.
Makes 1 loaf
1 cup whole-wheat flour
Half cup oat flour, finely ground *
1 tsp baking soda
Half tsp salt
Three-fourths cup sugar
4 green cardamom pods
Half cup soft butter
4 bananas ripe (medium-sized)
Preheat the oven at 175 degrees Celsius. Grease and flour a regular-sized loaf tin and keep aside.
In a large bowl, sift the flours along with the soda and salt. Keep aside.
Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods. Blitz the seeds with the sugar in a mixer jar. Transfer the cardamom sugar to another bowl. Cream the soft butter along with the sugar. Add the eggs and beat until well combined and light. Using a hand mixer will make this easier. Peel and mash the bananas with a fork until it is a coarse purée. Mix this purée into the egg mixture.
Add the dry ingredients into the wet and stir gently until there are no dry clumps of flour. Do not overmix.
Scrape this mixture into the prepared loaf tin. Bake at 175 degrees Celsius for 50-60 minutes or until a tester poked into the cake comes out dry. Allow to cool in the pan for five-seven minutes. Turn it out on to a cooling rack.
Allow the banana bread to cool for 30 minutes before slicing.
*To get oat flour, grind rolled oats or instant oats in a mixer jar until powdered.
If using salted butter, leave out the salt.
Fruits like mango and apple complement the flavour of cardamom well, so you can use any of these fruits instead of banana to make cardamom-scented desserts.
Double Tested is a fortnightly column on vegetarian cooking, highlighting a single ingredient prepared two ways. Nandita Iyer’s latest book is The Great Indian Thali—Seasonal Vegetarian Wholesomeness (Roli Books). @saffrontrail on Twitter and Instagram.