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Tuesday, October 1, 2013

One of the World’s Most Expensive Spices

                                                      Green cardomom is the highest quality

I’ve just spent 10 glorious days on a foodie’s trip in Turkey.  While I’ve always been a raving fan of cardomom (also spelled cardomon), I was reminded during this decadent tasting journey of how much I adore the spice.  It was used throughout the country in their cuisine in everything from coffee to desserts, and many dishes in between as a savory component.

Cardomom is an intensely aromatic, complex, and utterly beguiling spice that is indigenous to India.   It is often one of the secret components in India’s most flavorful curries.  The Scandinavians (who were a strong maritime power during the time when Constaninople was the center of the universe and the epicenter of world’s spice market), use cardomom in many of their sweet breakfast breads, cookies and other baked goods.  I first learned to appreciate the spice over 30 years ago in a Middle Eastern cooking class where it was a component of a rice dish, as well as the baklava.

On a recent visit to Istanbul’s fascinating Spice Market I saw an array different types of cardomom.  It was here in speaking with a vendor that I learned that cardomom seeds come from a plant that belongs to the ginger family.  Prices clearly indicated that the green cardamom was the most valuable---when I smelled it I knew why as the green seeds were much more pungent.  Black seeds, although aromatic, didn’t deliver the complex profile of the green.   Ground cardamom could be purchased, however, it quickly looses its flavor so it was not recommended by the spice merchants. 

Looking for cardomom in the US?  If you live in a large metropolitan area, I suggest a Middle Eastern market where the seeds are likely to be fresher since the spice is frequently purchased for their cooking.  Do keep in mind that cardomom  is surpassed in cost only by saffron and vanilla---but a little goes a long way so the cost is really negligible considering the  flavor it provides.  

If you’re wondering what to do with  cardamom, just substitute it in lieu of cinnamon.  With the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday, for example, it could easily be used in a pumpkin pie, or for that matter in a home-made cranberry sauce or chutney.   Once you’ve smelled cardamom and tasted it, there will be no turning back.

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