Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Cardamom is the world’s third most expensive spice after saffron and vanilla. It’s the seed of a herbaceous plant in the ginger family that is indigenous to the mountains of southwest India, and was grown only there until around 1900. German immigrants then brought it to Guatamala, which is now the largest producer. Cardamom seeds are borne in clusters of fibrous capsules that ripen at different times, so the capsules must be picked by hand one by one, and slightly before full ripeness, when the capsule splits. The word comes from an Arabic root meaning “to warm”; and cardamom has a delicate, warming quality due to two different sets of aromatics, both stored in a layer just below the seed surface: a group of floral, fruity, and sweet terpene compounds (linalool and acetate esters), and more penetrating, eucalyptus-like cineole.