Cardamom - production & trade
Cardamom is the third most expensive spice after saffron and vanilla. It is traded internationally in the form of whole fruits, and to a lesser extent as seeds.
|Image: Lithograph with watercolour. The cardamom plant with rootstock sprouting leafy and flowering stems, and separate flower.|
Until the 19th century, the world's supply of cardamom came mainly from the wild populations in the Cardamom Hills of the Western Ghats of India.
Although cardamom now comes from cultivated sources, India is still one of the major suppliers. The main consumers are Middle Eastern countries where it is added to tea and coffee, and Scandinavian countries for flavouring baked goods.
India and Guatemala are the biggest producers of cardamom. Cultivation in India is concentrated in the natural habitat of the species in the Western Ghats. The area of land on which cardamom is cultivated in India has increased since 1950 from 40,000 hectares to 80,000 hectares in 2000. Various cultivated races are recognised.
CultivationCardamom is propagated either vegetatively or by seedlings. For vegetative propagation, the rhizomes of large clumps are divided into small pieces which are planted into prepared holes in the soil. This method gives earlier fruit yields than those planted as seedlings, but plant material is often limited and farmers can't always get hold it.
For large-scale propagation it is common practise to sow seeds in special nurseries. Fresh cardamom seeds are sown quickly, as they only remain viable for 7-10 days. The very young plants that grow from the seeds are known as seedlings. When they are about 1-2 years old they are planted into a field, below shade trees. Cardamom is often intercropped with tea, betel nut palms or black pepper.
HarvestingThe fruits are harvested in about the third year. They are still green, but the seeds within them have changed from white to brown or black. The fruits ripen over an extended period and are harvested every 3 to 5 weeks.
They are then washed and the stalks are clipped off. Different methods can be used to dry the fruits. Whole green fruits are usually dried in special curing rooms, known as flue curing, which retains the green colour. Whole bleached cardamoms are sun dried and bleached in sulphur fumes. Some of the large enterprises use modern tray or tunnel dryers to reduce drying time. Whole straw-coloured cardamoms are sun dried. Sometimes loose seeds are sold. Whole fruits and seeds are used in a wide range of savoury and sweet dishes in South Asia.