"Ah ha! I told you at Lucknow--resurgam--I shall rise again and you shall not know me. How much did you bet--eh?" He chewed leisurely upon a few cardamom seeds, but he breathed uneasily.
--Rudyard Kipling's Kim

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(Elettaria cardamomum)

This highly aromatic--and expensive--spice is native to the wet, tropical jungles of southern India. In fact, it grows on the Malabar coast by spontaneous generation--by felling older trees and letting new seedlings pop up out of the raked-over soil. It's related to ginger--growing a 6-7 foot stem from a thick root--and gets its flavor and aroma from 4 different compounds in its fruit: camphor-scented eucalyptol, lemony limonene and terpinene, and peppery borneol.

The oil-bearing cardamom seeds come wrapped in seedpods, or capsules, which must be broken to release the seeds' yellow oil. These seedpods are sold ground and whole. When whole, they are usually white colored, but they can be found in stores both black (meaning they've been sun dried and are deeply flavored) and green (which means they've been dried in indoor kilns and are more mildly flavored).

Cardamom is a primary ingredient in most Indian curries. It's often used as a flavoring in cookies and cakes. And I most dearly love it mixed with ground coffee--which aroma, when brewed, takes me back in time to both happy and bitter times spent in the Mideast.