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Cardamom, also know by the scientific name Elettaria cardamom matons, is one of the crown jewels of the spice world. In fact, this spice is one of the most expensive spices available (only saffron is more expensive). Unlike many other spices, cardamom is actually not the fruit of any tree or plant, but rather the seed pod of the cardamom (or cardomon as it is also known) plant. The reason that this spice is so expensive is that it usually needs to be harvested by hand, and an acre of the plant will only yield about 250 pounds of the spice.
When cardamom was first discovered and used as a spice, the plant was native to the Indian sub-continent. Today, the single largest exporter of this wonderful little spice is actually the country of Guatemala. This plant, while reminiscent of ginger, actually has a spicy, sweet, flowery taste. Since it has such a unique taste, it is often used as a natural form of breath freshener or sweetener.
Since the cardamom is part of the ginger family, it has many of the properties associated with that plant. In fact, if you are looking for a way to "awaken" the tongue to a complex and intricate blend of spices, then cardamom is a necessity. Part of the reason for this is that while cardamom has an authoritative taste, it doesn't have the strong or powerful edge that is associated with ginger. So make sure that you use it in moderation when you want to accentuate the taste of your main dishes. Some of the other similarities that cardamom has with ginger is that it is a great flavor additive for freshly served melons, and is also good for soothing the stomach.
Cardamom is often recognized as an ingredient for sweets, pastries, and other baked goods. This is in part due to the fact that many of the Scandinavian countries have long used this spice as a seasoning for their pastries and other desserts. Typically, cardamom is added to both the dough and the filling to ensure that the taste is enjoyed with every single bite. In fact, this spice has long been a favorite of the Swedes, Danes, and Norwegians since Viking sailors first brought the spice home from the Middle East over a 1,000 years ago.