Arabic: Hal, Hail;
Other English: Cardamom, Lesser Cardamom, Small Cardamom, Malabar Cardamom Elettaria cardamomum; Zingiberaceae (Ginger Family)
Imagine an ancient trade caravan moving slowly up the Frankincense Trail in western Arabia toward the Mediterranean. The spices and aromatics burdening the camels could be from Yemen, East Africa, India or distant China. Although anticipating lucrative exchanges with merchants of the Mediterranean, caravaners also stop in villages along the way where both villagers and Bedouins are eager to barter. Exchanging goat meat, fresh produce or woven baskets, the local tradesmen obtain the cardamom necessary to flavor traditional Arabic coffee.
Native to India and Sri Lanka, cardamom is a well-loved spice in the Arabian Peninsula. Arab coffee is heavily flavored with it. In fact, cardamom is a valuable ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine: in beverages, sweets, pastries and main dishes.
How to use: 1) Bruise cardamom pods until partially open; remove cardamom seeds from their pods; gently bruise seeds or dry-fry over gentle heat to release their flavor; or 2) Grind seeds into powder.
In the kitchen: Cardamom is a vital ingredient in Arabian coffee making. Its flavor can be added to the beverage by grinding cardamom pods and adding the powdered cardamom to already brewed coffee. Cloves, saffron, sugar, nakhwa (See page 19.) or rose water are also sometimes added for flavor. “Sweet coffee,” which doesn’t contain any coffee at all, is a traditional drink from the Hijaz. It is a wonderful, warm beverage with a pleasant cardamom flavor. It is served on special occasions such as graduation day, which is the day students receive their grade cards.
Remedies across Arabia: A member of the ginger family, cardamom is a carminative and a stimulant. It warms the body and helps relieve indigestion and gas.
Did you know?
- Cardamom is one of the most expensive spices in the world. This is because each individual fruit pod containing the desired seed spice must be harvested from its flower stalk by hand. Flower stalks must be carefully examined and re-examined as the fruit pods develop at different rates. Harvested while still green and firm, the pods are then dried and sold.
- About 1000 years ago, the Vikings discovered cardamom in their explorations and conquests around the Mediterranean. They introduced this spice to Scandinavia, where it is still used extensively in baking spiced cakes and breads.
- Cardamom was one of the most popular Oriental spices in ancient Roman cuisine.
- Ground cardamom can soften a plastic spoon left in it for several days.