Saffron cardamom and vanilla are the three most expensive spices (by weight)
Cardamom (or cardamon) refers to several plants of the similar genera Elettaria and Amomum in the ginger family Zingiberaceae. Both genera are native to India, Nepal and Bhutan; they are recognised by their small seed pods, triangular in cross-section and spindle-shaped, with a thin, papery, outer shell and small black seeds. Today, Guatemala is the biggest producer and exporter of cardamom in the world, followed by India. Some other countries such as Sri Lanka have also begun to cultivate it. Elettaria pods are light green while Amomum pods are larger and dark brown.
The word “cardamom” is derived from the Latin cardamomum, itself the latinisation of the Greek καρδάμωμον (kardamomon), a compound of κάρδαμον (kardamon), “cress” ἄμωμον (amomon), which was the name for a kind of an Indian spice plant. The earliest attested form of the word is the Mycenaean Greek ka-da-mi-ja, written in Linear B syllabic script, in the list of flavourings on the “Spice” tablets found among palace archives in the House of the Sphinxes in Mycenae.
In the New Testament (which was largely written in Greek), the name amomon [ἄμωμον] appears in reference to an aromatic plant. This could be derived – and some books state so – from the adjective amomos “blameless, without reproach”; given, however, that amomos is a regional and poetic form, this may be less probable than (what other books state) the derivation from Aramaic hemama, which was not able to be verified.
The modern genus name Elettaria is derived from the local name in a South Asian tongue; cf. Hindi ilaychi and Punjabi ilaichi “green cardamom”. The common source is Sanskrit, where cardamom is called ela or ellka , which is itself a loan from a Dravidian language. From the corresponding Dravidian root, ĒL, all modern names of cardamom in the major Dravidian languages are directly derived, e. g., Kannada elakki , Telugu yelakulu , Tamil elakkai and Malayalam elakkay . The second element kai means “vegetable”.
Guatemala is the largest producer of cardamom in the world, with an average annual yield of between 25,000 to 29,000 metric tons. India is the second producer worldwide (formerly the largest), generating approximately 15,000 metric tons annually. Cardamom was first introduced to Guatemala in 1914.
Increased demand since the 1980s, principally from China, for both Amomum villosum and Amomum tsao-ko has provided a key source of income for poor farmers living at higher altitudes in localized areas of China, Laos and Vietnam, people typically isolated from many other markets. Nepal was previously the world’s largest producer of large cardamom.
According to estimates of the Asociación de Cardamomeros de Guatemala (Cardegua) the harvest of 2012 will reach to about 29,000 metric tons, 12 percent more than in 2011 when they were 26,000 metric tons.