What: Cardamom is a spice belonging to the same family as clove and ginger and is often referred to as “the queen of spices.” Some of the most popular cardamom varieties include green, brown and black. Each variety contains small seeds within the pods’ thin, papery layer. Cardamom is the world’s third most expensive spice behind saffron and vanilla bean, partly because cardamom plants yield a small crop of pods — approximately 40 to 120 pounds per acre.

Origin: Most of the world’s supply came from wild plants in the Southern Indian rainforests of the Western Ghats, also known as Cardamom Hills. Guatemala is now the biggest producer and exporter of cardamom today, though it is still grown in India, as well as Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tanzania, and Papua New Guinea.

Benefits: According to Ayurvedic Medicine, cardamom has many health benefits especially relating to the digestive system, such as increasing appetite, reducing gas and relieving stomach cramps and stomach acidity. It is also believed to have anti-inflammatory properties and respiratory system benefits, and can be a treatment for mucus reduction, sore throats, colds, coughs and bronchitis.

Tips: When purchasing cardamom, choose whole, plump, bright green pods and store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer. Just before using, peel the pods by digging your fingernails in the pod’s grooves to pry open, or gently hammer with a rolling pin, discard the husks, and then grind the seeds with a mortar and pestle.

Enjoy: The spice is a common ingredient in Masala chai. Cardamom tea can be made by crushing the seeds and boiling them in water to release the fragrant oils. For a Middle Eastern rendition of coffee, add the spice to your morning cup of java for a unique flavour. Cardamom adds spicy warmth to Indian dishes like tandoori, chicken vindaloo and saag paneer, or in stews and curries. To add a hint of intriguing sweetness to desserts, use cardamom. It is a popular ingredient in Scandinavian sweets. •