Source, Etc

Cardamoms are the dried, nearly ripe fruits of Elet-taria Cardamomum, Maton (N.O. Scitamineoe), a tall perennial, reedlike plant that grows wild in the forests of southern India, especially near the Malabar coast. It is cultivated there as well as in Ceylon, the fruits of commerce being obtained from cultivated plants. The plant produces near the root a long loose raceme of flowers, succeeded by small, inferior, capsular fruits, which are cut from the rachis in succession as they mature, but before they are quite ripe; if they are left till quite ripe they are liable to spring open when they are dried and discharge the seeds. They are then dried on trays in the open air, trimmed by machinery, graded by sieves, sorted to colour and finally bleached in trays over burning sulphur.

Cardamoms were well known to the Greeks and Romans, but probably not the species now under consideration.


Cardamom fruits differ considerably in size and shape. They vary usually from 1 to 2 cm. in length, the smallest variety being frequently nearly globular in shape, while the longer are ovate or oblong and more or less distinctly three-sided. They are of a pale buff or yellowish colour, and nearly smooth or longitudinally striated. The base is rounded and may bear the remains of the stalk; towards the apex they taper more or less abruptly, and are sometimes crowned by a short beak formed of the remains of the calyx. They are three-celled, and contain in each cell two rows of small seeds attached to axile placentas. From good plump cardamom fruits the seeds usually separate in a cohering mass from each cell. They are a dark reddish brown, about 3 mm. in length, irregularly angular, hard, and marked with transverse wrinkles, which are very distinct when examined with a lens; unripe seeds are paler in colour and not so plump. The thin, colourless, membranous aril that covers the seeds become more evident after soaking in water. The hilum is depressed, and a channel, extending on one side from the base to the apex of the seed, indicates the position of the raphe.

Description 116Description 117Fig. 79.   Mysore Cardamoms. Natural size.

Fig. 79. - Mysore Cardamoms. Natural size.

Cut transversely, the seed exhibits a thin, dark, seed-coat, a whitish perisperm grooved on one side, and in the centre a small, yellowish, translucent endosperm and minute embryo.

The seeds have a powerful aromatic odour and an agreeable, pungent, aromatic taste, but the pericarps possess neither aroma nor taste. The seeds of fruits which have partially opened are less aromatic, and such fruits (' splits ') are less esteemed.

Microscopical Characters

The most important tissues in cardamon seeds are (i) the epidermis, consisting of long, narrow, tapering cells with walls 3 to

Microscopical Characters 119Fig. 80.   Cardamom seed. A, entire; B, longitudinal section; int., integuments; per., perisperm; end., endosperm; emb., embryo; rod., radicle. Magnified 12 and 14 diam. respectively.

Fig. 80. - Cardamom seed. A, entire; B, longitudinal section; int., integuments; per., perisperm; end., endosperm; emb., embryo; rod., radicle. Magnified 12 and 14 diam. respectively.

4 μ thick; (ii) a single layer of large, thin-walled oil-cells in the outer seed-coat; (iii) the inner seed-coat, consisting of dark brown, very strongly thickened, radially prismatic cells, each containing a small nodule of silica; (iv) the thin-walled parenchyma of the endosperm packed with minute starch grains and containing in the centre of each cell one or more small prismatic crystals of calcium oxalate.

The pericarps contain abundant empty parenchymatous cells, spiral vessels, and elongated sclerenchymatous cells and fibres, none of which occurs in the seed.1

The student should observe in the fruits

(a) The pale colour and plump appearance,

(b) The abruptly tapering apex; and should compare them with Ceylon (wild) cardamoms (see below).

1 Compare Greenish, Food and Drugs.

He should also observe in the seeds

(a) The dark reddish brown colour and aromatic taste,

(b) The transverse wrinkles, depressed hilum and raphe,

(c) The characters of the section; and should compare them with

(i) Seeds of Ceylon cardamoms (see below), (ii) Grains of Paradise, which have a rich reddish brown colour, papillose surface, and thick fibrous funicle.


The principal constituent of the seeds is the volatile oil, of which they yield from 2 to 8 (average about 5) per cent. They also contain abundance of starch. Good ripe seeds yield about

Constituents 121Constituents 122Fig. 81.   Malabar Cardamoms. Natural size.

Fig. 81. - Malabar Cardamoms. Natural size.

Constituents 124Constituents 125Fig. 82.   Mangalore Cardamoms. Natural size.

Fig. 82. - Mangalore Cardamoms. Natural size.

Constituents 127Fig. 83.   Long wild native Cardamoms. Natural size.

Fig. 83. - Long wild native Cardamoms. Natural size.

35 to 5.5 per cent, of ash, unripe seeds more; ripe fruits from 4 to 7 per cent.


Mysore: although bearing the name of an Indian province, these are imported from Ceylon; they constitute the chief commercial variety, and the one to which the official description most nearly applies. They are distinguished by their ovoid shape and cream coloured, nearly smooth surface.

Malabar: these are also imported from Ceylon; they are shorter, plumper, and often not so smooth as Mysore cardamoms.

Mangalore, which closely resembles the Malabar variety, but are often rather larger, nearly globular, have a roughish, almost scurfy coat; they are imported from India.

The seeds of these three varieties are practically indistinguishable from one another, though differing very slightly in flavour.

Long wild natives: these are the fruits of E. Cardamomum, var. β major, Smith, imported from Ceylon; they are readily distinguished by their elongated shape, shrivelled appearance, and greyish brown colour; the seeds closely resemble the foregoing, but have a slightly bitterish taste, different odour, and rather thicker epidermal cell walls (4.5 to 6.0 μ; see above). They are used for the production of commercial cardamom oil, and also for making liqueurs and for flavouring.

Other varieties occasionally met with are: -

Round or Cluster cardamoms (Amomum Cardamomum, Linne); fruits globose, about 12-15 mm. in diameter; seeds have strong camphoraceous taste (Java); frequently found in imported shelled seeds.

Korarima cardamoms (Amomum Korarima, Pereira); fruits ovate, pointed; seeds larger than genuine, reddish brown, striated; taste similar (Abyssinia).

Bengal cardamoms {A. aromaticum, Roxburgh); fruits large, winged; seeds about 3 mm. long; taste very aromatic, camphoraceous (India).

Wild cardamoms (A. xanthioides, Wallich); fruits spiny; seeds resemble genuine but flavour is different (Siam).

Powdered cardamom seeds may be distinguished from the powdered fruits by the absence of the tissues of the pericarp (see above).


Cardamoms are employed as an aromatic carminative and as an agreeable flavouring agent.