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Green Cardamom fits in nicely with baked goods

February 8, 2017

Plants follow humans around the globe and end up having a huge impact as local cuisines adopt foreign foods. Pineapples are not native to Hawaii, tomatoes are not native to Italy, and potatoes are not native to Ireland, yet each has become a staple flavor of those areas. Scandinavia has cardamom, the basis for many signature baked goods. This Indian spice cleansed teeth in ancient Egypt. Its strong scent made it popular with the Greeks and Romans as a perfume. 

Green Cardamom (Elettaria cardamommum) came to Europe through trade over 3,000 years ago, and Scandinavia’s love affair with this spice probably comes from Viking exploits into Turkey. 

This beautiful plant makes a great indoor houseplant. Part of the ginger family, its lance-shaped leaves and white-and-purple flowers will eventually yield seed-filled pods.

It is these tiny seeds that add such deep flavor to traditional curries and masala chai tea, and even can be added to coffee. Green cardamom has a spicy yet sweet taste. Some compare it to slightly citrus. There are other varieties of cardamom, but if a recipe calls for cardamom, always use Green Cardamom. 

As a houseplant, Green Cardamom does best in rich soil that is just slightly acidic with a pH of 6.1-6.6. It will do well in a sunny window. You can grow Green Cardamom from seeds, but it might not flower for several years. Plant the tiny seeds just barely covered with about one-eighth inch of soil. Like many tropical plants, Green Cardamom needs constant soil moisture and lots of humidity. Try setting the pot on a bed of pebbles with water around them. Eventually your Green Cardamom plant will reach three to six feet tall. 

Once your plant blooms, the flowers will develop into pods or capsules. Pick the seed pods just as they turn green. Let the pods dry further for about a week. 

Collect the seeds by crushing the dried pods. Use a fan to blow away the chaff or gently clean them on a screen or colander. Keep the delicate seeds fresh by storing in a sealed container out of direct sunlight. Green Cardamom plants are available from specialty nurseries such as Logee's or Pepper's Greenhouse (13034 Cedar Creek Road, Milton, DE 19968, pepgrehou@aol.com; phone 302-684-8092). 

Once you discover Green Cardamom, you may find it fits in nicely with all sorts of baked goods. Try adding Green Cardamom to meat dishes of all sorts, but especially duck and chicken. Besides flavoring curries, it will enhance peas, beans, lentils, rice and even squash. For a spicy drink, steep Green Cardamom along with other spices into mulled wine. 

Whether you grow Green Cardamom for its expensive seeds or just as a nice foliage houseplant, you will have an exotic addition to your plant collection. No Viking war parties needed.

  • Paul Barbano writes about gardening from his home in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him by writing to P. O. Box 213, Lewes, DE 19958.