Cardamom - history
OriginsCardamom plants grow wild in parts of the monsoon forests of the Western Ghats in southern India. This area has become known as the Cardamom Hills, and until just 200 years ago wild plants from these hills provided most of the world's supply of cardamom.
The fruits have been traded in India for at least 1000 years. It was known as the Queen of Spices, with black pepper being the King.
|These gold coated pods are from Kew's Economic Botany Collection, and are from India where the plants grow wild.|
HistoryMany historical Indian texts mention cardamom as a flavouring and medicine. The medical compendium Charaka Samhita written between the 2nd century BC to 2nd century AD refers to it as an ingredient in some preparations. Cardamom is also mentioned in Sanskrit texts of the 4th century BC in a treatise on politics called Kautilya's Arthashasthra and in Taitirriya Samhita where it is used in offerings during ceremonies.
By this time the Greeks were importing spices from the East which they called amomon and kardamomon. Later Roman writers also distinguished two varieties, but it is not clear from the descriptions whether they were the true cardamom that we recognise today.
In the 11th century in India cardamom was included in the list of ingredients for panchasugandha-thambula or 'five-fragrance betel chew' in the Manasollasa or Book of Splendour. It was also included in recipes from the court of the Sultan of Mandu dating from about 1500. These recipes include sherbets and rice dishes flavoured with cardamom. True cardamom became an article of trade with South Asia in the last thousand years when Arab traders brought it into widespread use. Exports from the Malabar coast, close to where cardamoms grew wild, were described by the Portuguese traveller Barbosa in 1524. By the time of Garcia da Orta in 1563 the international trade in cardamoms was well developed.
Kerala continued to monopolise the cardamom trade until colonial times. It was bought by the Raja's officials and some of it was sold to Muslim merchants while the best quality was exported. In the 19th century British colonies established cardamom as a secondary crop in coffee plantations in other parts of India.