I recently dug up a recipe for cardamom loaf, and having bought a small bag of the ground spice a few months ago to flavour a curry, I thought I’d give it a shot in baking. I love the taste of cardamom – it’s sort of like nutmeg, sort of like ginger, pleasantly sweet and yet with a bit of a zing (but not quite as zippy as ginger itself). While stirring up the ingredients for the cake, I realized I knew nothing about cardamom – does it grow on trees, like nutmeg?
Actually, no, cardamom does not grow on trees, although it is a sizeable plant, reaching a height of up to 6 metres. I refer to green cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), the kind that is most widely available for purchase in supermarkets in Canada; there is another kind called black cardamom (Amomum cardamomum – say that a few times in rapid succession!) which is described as more “astringent” in flavour. The reason for the gingery taste resemblance is due to the fact that cardamom is part of the same family, Zingiberaceae. Wild cardamom is found all over India and Sri Lanka, and cultivated plants are grown everywhere in Asia and in the Middle East. A mainstay of Indian cooking, black cardamom is used most often in curries, being a principle ingredient in the spice mix garam masala. The individual seeds are also sometimes chewed like a breath-refreshing gum (I read that Wrigley’s uses the flavour in one of their manufactured gums, but I cannot verify that, and there was no confirmation whether or not that particular type of gum is for sale in North America or if it is found overseas somewhere).
Green cardamom is most often used in Scandinavian baking, no doubt the cultural origin of my loaf recipe. It is also used as a drink flavouring: in the Middle East, green cardamom pods are ground together with whole coffee beans and boiled (sounds delicious!). In south Asia, green cardamom is used medicinally to treat a variety of ailments, from tooth and gum infections to sore throats, to banishing kidney and gall stones, and even as an antidote for snake and scorpion bites.
Unfortunately, there appears to be a dearth of photographs of the flowers on the Internet; green cardamom apparently possesses pale green flowers on long stalks that can reach up to one metre in length…and one of the flowers on each plant is always white, with faint violet streaks. As this is likely the male flower (both males and females are on one plant), I can understand the colour variance, but it would be lovely to see it in a good photograph. The pod-like fruit are pale green as well, and darken to brown with maturity, producing many valuable, delicious seeds.
1/2 cup margarine
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp salt
2/3 cup milk
In large bowl, cream margarine and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. In separate bowl mix together flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt. Stir flour mixture into creamed mixture alternately with milk until well combined. Pour into greased loaf pan. Bake in 325 F oven for 55-60 minutes. Let cool in pan 5 minutes before turning out onto rack to cool completely. Yield: 1 loaf.