Cardamom plants are from the ginger family and are native to southern India. Cardamom is cultivated for its aromatic seedpods, which flavor everything from Chai to pudding. It takes about three years for the plant to mature and produce seeds. Maybe that’s why cardamom is so expensive at the grocery store? Cardamom is a sweet and savory spice. It can be boiled with condensed milk to create mithai, Indian sweets. Or it can be fried with meats and baked into rice. Green cardamom pods are considered to be the best for cooking. Cardamom also has many medicinal qualities, including to reduce mucus and being a digestive aid. It is a warming, antibacterial, one-of-a kind spice.
Not to be confused with curry powder, the curry leaf plant is technically an herb and unrelated to the curry plant (Helichrysum italicum), which is an inedible plant sometimes sold in western nurseries. The leaves of the curry leaf plant are not eaten but used to season a lot of traditional South Indian foods such as sambar, masala dosas, and coconut chutney. They have a nutty spicy taste all of their own and are best used fresh and often sold in Ziploc bags in the refrigerated sections in Indian markets. It is a small shrub that is easy to grow, so you could plant your own. The curry leaf has traditional medicinal use including aiding digestion, clearing up skin problems, and helping those with diabetes.
Illustrations by Brian Ignacio. Words by Tara Dorabji. Read Tara’s “Curry Remixed” essay here.