Thai Cardamom: At a Glance
Thai cardamom pods are the dried fruit of the cardamom plant, which belongs in the same family as several kinds of ginger, turmeric, and a number of other valuable spices and medicinal plants. Cardamom is a complex spice with floral notes of lemon, mint, and camphor. Thai cardamom pods are generally smaller, rounder, and more mild than the green cardamom used in Indian cooking. The flavor and smell of Thai cardamom is quite different from that of India and Indonesia, so these three should not be used interchangeably in recipes.
Known as luk krawan in Thailand, cardamom is a key ingredient in the famous southern Massaman curry dish. It can also be found in several other Thai meals, including curries, stews, and noodle dishes. Cardamom is also commonly used in Thailand for its medicinal properties, to treat stomach and digestion issues.
Cooking with Thai Cardamom
Thai cardamom plants have smaller and rounder pods than those of their green cousin. The pods are more floral, with less of a camphor flavor than the green. Within the tiny, hard, lightly colored pods are black seeds, which are sometimes dried and ground into powder.
Widely popular in Thai and Indian cooking, cardamom is used throughout the world for a variety of dishes. In Thailand, some of the most popular dishes include kaeng massaman curry (rich, aromatic, and medium spice curry), kaeng karee (a Thai version of an Indian curry) and kaeng phanaeng (thick curry with coconut cream).
Three common forms and uses for Thai cardamom are:
- Curry Paste: Cardamom pods can be dry roasted, alongside other ingredients—including lemongrass, chilies, garlic, coriander, nutmeg, and cinnamon—which are then pounded together into a smooth curry paste. This paste is the base for the most famous Thai recipe using cardamom, Massaman Curry.
- Ground: Thai cardamom can be ground using a blender or spice grinder. This seasoning is used to flavor both sweet and savory dishes, including Vietnamese pho, chai tea, in whipped creams, pastries, or noodle dishes.
- Crushed: When making chai, stew, or curry, cardamom pods can be lightly crushed and simmered in the pot. Once cooking is complete, the hard outer pods are removed before serving. In Chinese cooking, for example, Thai cardamom pods are simmered in broth for a beef noodle dish called kui tio nuea.
Even if a recipe calls for only the seed of the cardamom pod, it is wise to keep the outer pod for future use. Cardamom pods without seeds can be used for infusions to provide a soft, subtle cardamom flavor and smell.
Thai cardamom also has traditional medicinal uses that involve it in cooking all the more. It is used to treat digestive issues, inflammation, stomach pain, and throat pain, among others.
Thai Cardamom: History and Origination
Thailand ranks alongside India and Indonesia as a source of cardamom. In southern Thailand, families traditionally harvested completely ripe cardamom pods, drying them outdoors or using a wood fire.
Cardamom has been used around the world for many different purposes. In ancient Greece and Rome, cardamom was used in perfumes. Egyptians used cardamom as a breath freshener.
Cardamom has been cultivated in Thailand for centuries. In the past, Chinese traders purchased Thai cardamom, sold it in the Middle East, and from there it was distributed to Western countries. By some people, Thai cardamom was considered more valuable than other forms of the spice.
Cultivation of Thai Cardamom
The cardamom plant is of medium height, growing to about three meters. The fruit actually forms at the base of the plant, which grows best under indirect sunlight.
Thai cardamom can grow at altitudes of up to 1,400 meters above sea level. It grows best in areas where the soil is thick and the landscape is covered with vegetation, including trees, to provide shade for the plants. In these areas, the soil remains moist and plants that grow close to the ground, like cardamom, tend to thrive.
The tree produces fruit when it is two or three years old. Fruit should only be harvested when fully mature and ripe; when ripe, the fruit is easily removed from the plant stem.
Clean cardamom pods are dried immediately after harvest to achieve maximum flavor potential. Traditionally, cardamom pods are dried in open air setting but can also be dried using wood fires or electric dryers.
About Our Thai Cardamom
Our Thai cardamom comes from southern Thailand. Cardamom in Thailand is mostly grown in Chanthaburi province and in other areas of southern Thailand.
Cardamom is one of Thailand’s most popular and commonly used spices. Many people consider the Thai cardamom from Chanthaburi, where the Cardamom Mountains are found, to be the best in the world.
Today, dishes made with Thai cardamom are found in nearly every part of Chanthaburi province, and throughout southern Thailand. Thai cardamom is considered a rich and valued spice and remains a source of pride for local communities.