Cardamom (/ˈkɑːrdəməm/), sometimes Cardamon or Cardamum, is a spice made from the seeds of several plants in the generaElettaria and Amomum in the family Zingiberaceae. Both genera are native to India (the largest producer until the late 20th century), Bhutan, Indonesia and Nepal. They are recognised by their small seed pods: triangular in cross-section and spindle-shaped, with a thin papery outer shell and small black seeds; Elettaria pods are light green and smaller, while Amomum pods are larger and dark brown.
The German coffee planter Oscar Majus Kloeffer introduced Indian cardamom (kerala) to cultivation in Guatemala before World War I; by 2000 that country had become the biggest producer and exporter of cardamom in the world, followed by India. Some other countries, such as Sri Lanka, have also begun to cultivate it.
Cardamom is the world’s third-most expensive spice, surpassed in price per weight only by vanilla and saffron.
The word “cardamom” is derived from the Latin cardamomum, which is the Latinisation of the Greek καρδάμωμον (kardamomon), a compound of κάρδαμον (kardamon), “cress” + ἄμωμον (amomon), which was probably the name for a kind of Indian spice plant. The earliest attested form of the word κάρδαμον signifying cress is the Mycenaean Greek ka-da-mi-ja, written in Linear B syllabic script, in the list of flavourings on the “Spice” tablets found among palace archives in the House of the Sphinxes in Mycenae.
The modern genus name Elettaria is derived from the local name. The root ēlam is attested in all Dravidian languages viz. Kannada elakki (ಏಲಕ್ಕಿ), Telugu yelakulu (యేలకులు), Tamil elakkai (ஏலக்காய்) and Malayalam elakkay (ഏലക്കായ്). The second element kai means “seed” or “fruit”. The Malabar region had historical trade connections and was a prominent area of cardamom cultivation. A related root is also present in Hindi ilaychi (इलायची), Bengali ælachi (এলাচি) and Punjabi ilaichi (ਇਲੈਚ) “green cardamom”. In Sindhi it is called Photta (ڦوٽا). In Sanskrit it was known as ela (एला) or ellka (एल्ल्का). In Marathi it is commonly known as velchi (वेलची) or veldoda (वेलदोडा). In Sri Lanka, the plant is known as Enasal by Sinhala language.
There are two main types of cardamom:
- True or green cardamom (or, when bleached, white cardamom) comes from the species Elettaria cardamomumand is distributed from India to Malaysia.
- Black cardamom, also known as brown, greater, large, longer, or Nepal cardamom, comes from species Amomum subulatumand is native to the eastern Himalayas and mostly cultivated in Eastern Nepal, Sikkim and parts of Darjeeling district in West Bengal of India, and Southern Bhutan.
The two types of cardamom, κάρδαμομον and ἄμωμον, were distinguished in the fourth century BCE by the Greek father of botany, Theophrastus. Theophrastus and informants knew that these varieties were originally and solely from India.