The name cardamom (sometimes written cardamon) is used for species within three genera of the Ginger family (Zingiberaceae), namely Elettaria, Amomum and Aframomum. Cardamom is native to the tropical rainforests of south India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, and Sumatra. It is now also grown in Nepal, Thailand and Central America. In India, the states of Sikkim and Kerala are the main producers of cardamom; they rank highest both in cultivated area and in production. It is widely used in Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand.
The three main genera of the ginger family that are named as forms of cardamom are distributed as follows:
- Elettaria (commonly called cardamom, green cardamom, or true cardamom) is distributed from India to Malaysia;
- Amomum (commonly known as cardamom, Kravan, Java cardamom, Bengal cardamom, Siamese cardamom, white/green/red/black cardamom, Guinea grains, or grains of paradise) is distributed mainly in Asia and Australia];
- Aframomum (commonly called cardamom or Madagascar cardamom) is distributed in mainland Africa and Madagascar.
All the different cardamom species and varieties are used mainly as cooking spices and as medicines. In general,
- Elettaria subulatum (the usual type of cardamom) is used as a spice, a masticatory, and in medicine; it is used as a food plant by the larva of the moth Endoclita hosei.
- Aframomum is used as a spice (see Grains of Paradise);
- Amomum is used as an ingredient in traditional systems of medicine in China, India, Korea, and Vietnam.
In India, it is used to cure various different ailments. Species in the genus Amomum is also used in traditional Indian medicine. It is used in China as a spice as well as medicine.
True (or green) cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) It is a perennial plant that can grow to be 6–12 ft (1.8–3.7 m) in height. The green seed pods of the plant are dried and the seeds inside the pod are used in Indian and Asian cuisine either whole or in a ground form. Ground cardamom is an ingredient in many Indian curries, and is a primary contributor to the flavour of masala chai. In the Middle East and Iran, cardamom is used to flavour coffee and tea. Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intensely aromatic fragrance. It is often used in baking in Scandinavia. One of the most expensive spices by weight, little is needed to impart the flavor. Cardamom is best stored in pod form, because once the seeds are exposed or ground, they quickly lose their flavor.