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Cardamom or cardamon pertains to plants related to the ginger family Zingiberaceae. Native to India, Nepal and Bhutan; these prized spices ranks among the world’s most expensive spices together with saffron and vanilla beans. Guatemala is currently one of the world’s the biggest growers and exporters of this enticingly warm and sweet spice, used in many preparations from baked pastries, tea and alcoholic beverages to savory rice, meat and poultry dishes.

Unlike ginger whose most utilized part is the root (botanically an underground stem or rhizome), cardamom is recognized for their small seed pods, thin paper-like covering containing small black seeds.

Its two varieties include elettaria, also called green or true cardamom, from India and Malaysia, and amomum, black or brown cardamom also called Java, Bengal or Siamese cardamom named after its origins and is distributed in Asia and Australia.

In India where it is widely cultivated and consumed, there are three varieties of green cardamom: native or Nadan malabar from Kerala, mysore which is native to Karnataka and vazhuka, a hybrid of the two.

Green and black cardamom are widely used as a food and beverage flavoring imparting a distinct taste–aromatic, smokey, bitter aroma, which some liken to mint but quite different from it.

Usually purchased in its dried form, it is best kept in its pod as this ensures the retention of its volatile compounds. Once the seeds are exposed or ground up, it quickly loses its quality.

Take note whether the recipe you’re following calls for the whole seed or ground cardamom. A whole pod is equivalent to half a tablespoon of ground. Try baking a fig pie flavored with cardamom and cinnamon and top with ice cream. Go gourmet yet simple with pumpkin cappuccino with cardamom, a hearty soup flavored with whole seeds.

Needless to say, a lot of Indian dishes from various regions use this versatile spice. Ada, a delicacy made from coconut milk-rice flour and ghee popular in the Kerala state uses the ground spice. Other Indian delicacies that use it include jalebi and pootharekulu.