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Black Cardamom (Amomum subulatum)
Zingiberaceae (ginger family).
Several species of the genus Amomum are distributed all over the mountainous area from the Himalayas to Southern China. Furthermore, some African cardamoms (genus Aframomum, in Madagascar, Somalia and Cameroon; another member of this genus is the pungent West African spice grains of paradise) have a similar taste and appear sporadically on the Western market.
Used plant part
Seeds. Normally, the large (typically, 3 cm), brown pods are sold as a whole.
Black cardamom has a fresh and aromatic, but also smoked aroma. Camphor is easily discernable in its odour.
The seeds contain 3% of an essential oil, which is dominated by 1,8-cineol (more that 70%). Smaller and variable amounts of limonene, terpinene, terpineol, terpinyl acetate and sabinene have also been reported (Phytochemistry, 9, 665 , 1970)
Black cardamom seeds from Nepal
Black cardamom is, in most books, described as an inferior substitute to green cardamom, but this is simply untrue. In India, black cardamom has its special field of application, and although green and black cardamoms are frequently interchangeable, the black variety is felt superior for spicy and rustic dishes, while green cardamom is much preferred by the Imperial (Mughal) cuisine with its subtle blend of sweet fragrances.
Black cardamom can be used in rather liberal amounts, up to a few capsules per person. The smoky fragrance of the pure spice is not discernible in the finished dish; black cardamom cannot dominate a dish, but enhances and intensifies the taste of other ingredients. The pods should be slightly crushed before usage, but not so much that the seeds are released.
Black cardamom, as other spices used in Northern India, needs some time to develop its aroma best. This behaviour is shared by other unground spices, like cinnamon, cloves and green cardamom, all of which are popular in Northern India and mostly used unground.
Although there are many distinct species of black cardamom, ranging in pod size from 2 cm (A. subulatum , Nepal to North Vietnam) to more than 5 cm (A. medium , China), their tastes do not differ much. Apart from usage in Indian (and Nepali) cuisine, they are not much known, but have some regional importance in Southern China. There, the ground seeds are an optional ingredient to the five spice powder.
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