Cardamom: what it is and how to use it in cocktails | Giovanni Ceccarelli

Cardamom: what it is and how to use it in cocktails

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Cardamom, along with pepper and cinnamon, is one of the world’s most famous and important spices. In this article we will look at this raw material in order to understand how to use it in cocktails.


Elettaria cardamomum, the Cardamom plant, is a herbaceous, perennial plant belonging to the Zingiberaceae family, the same as ginger. The fruit of this plant, once dried, is the spice we all call by the same name as the plant: cardamom.

The fruit is a green 3-sided capsule; it is roughly 1cm long and has 3 cavities inside, which contain 5 to 8 seeds each. The seeds are rather small and black. Most of the essential oils are contained in the seeds. The outer shell also contains some, but in smaller quantities.

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It is originally from Malabar, a region in the southwest coast of the Indian peninsula. It so happens that pepper too, the most important spice in the world from an economic point of view, originated in the same area. The Portuguese, who landed on the coasts of India, exported cardamom, pepper and ginger to Europe. It is currently cultivated in Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Thailand and Guatemala, which is the largest producer in the world.

This spice is so important that it is also known as the ‘queen of the spices’.

Processing and semi-finished products.

First of all, the fruit is harvested when it is fully ripe, to ensure the utmost presence of aromatic components. After harvesting it is dried, packaged and shipped to consumer countries. This spice is almost always sold whole because it keeps its characteristics intact for up to 12 months, if kept away from light, in appropriate containers and in a cool place.

You can also find its seeds on the market, which are obtained by dehusking the capsule. However, these seeds have a short life because the aromatic components are contained in a thin portion found just below the epidermis.

The powder is definitely the best product to be used for mixing both drinks and home-made preparations, but the best thing is to grind it on the spot with a mortar to make the most of its aroma.

The essential oil is obtained through steam distillation; it is transparent with yellowish reflections and is soluble in alcohol. The main components of the essential oil are cineol, terpinen, limonene and linalol acetate.

The oleoresin is extracted using solvents and it’s a mixture of essential oil and other components of the spice like waxes and pigments.

A little bit of history.

The first written traces of the use of this spice are found in the Taitreya Samhita, from Vedic texts, dated roughly 3,000 BC, where it is written that cardamom was thrown into the fire during wedding ceremonies. Assyrians and Babylonians mentioned it among the healing plants along with thymus, fennel, oregano and cumin, while the Greeks and Romans used it both to create fragrances and as a remedy to stimulate digestion in case of excess eating at the table.

In Ayurvedic medicine it is used because it is considered as a carminative, stimulant, expectorant, diuretic and a tonic effect for the heart and is a fundamental ingredient for ointments and balms for curing asthma, bronchitis and hemorrhoids. It’s worth noting that some of these properties are presumed and have not been verified by traditional medicine. However, the carminative, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties have been confirmed.

Nowadays it is mainly used to flavor drinks, pastries, cooking, in the cosmetic and perfume industries.

The Black Cardamom.

More difficult to find on the market is the black cardamom; its scientific name is Amomum subulatum. It is originally from Sikkim (northeast of India) and is currently cultivated throughout northern India, Nepal and Bhutan.

It’s bigger than the traditional cardamom; the capsule is dark in color and has a more balsamic, camphor and less floral aroma reminiscent of mint. It has smoked notes caused by the traditional drying process.

The picture below is a representation of the instrument used to dry the black cardamom.

 The Cardamom in mixing.

When mixed, cardamom is a very versatile spice. It can be transformed into many ingredients and is great for giving a fresh and balm-like hint to drinks and cocktails. In a 1:10 ratio (or higher) it can be turned into alcoholic tincture, while if you wish to extract it in water a quick decoction is recommended. It’s a good idea to open the capsules and grind the seeds in a mortar. If you wish to flavor distillates, the advice is to dose the amount of spice and the infusion time depending on your tastes. Excellent when combined with coffee.

Happy mixing,
Giovanni

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