A member of the ginger family, this aromatic spice is native to India and grows in many other tropical areas including Asia, South America and the Pacific Islands. Cardamom seeds are encapsulated in small pods about the size of a cranberry. Each pod contains 17 to 20 tiny seeds. Cardamom has a pungent aroma and a warm, spicy-sweet flavor. It's widely used in Scandinavian and East Indian cooking. Cardamom can be purchased either in the pod or ground. The latter, though more convenient, is not as full-flavored because cardamom seeds begin to lose their essential oils as soon as they're ground. The seeds may be removed from the pods and ground, or the entire pod may be ground. A mortar and pestle make quick work of the grinding. If using cardamom to flavor dishes such as stews and curries, lightly crush the shell of the pod and add the pod and seeds to the mixture. The shell will disintegrate while the dish cooks. Be frugal when using cardamom a little goes a long way.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.