Cardamom is a valuable spice that is obtained from the seeds
of a perennial plant (Elettaria cardamomum). Cardamom
originates from the coastal area of India. It is now grown in
Guatemala, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Vietnam, Laos
and Cambodia. India is the main exporter of dried cardamom.
Cardamom must be dried before it is stored and sold for
market. This brief outlines the important steps that should be
taken pre-harvest and post-harvest to ensure that the dried
cardamom is of top quality for the market.
Figure 1: Small green cardamom
Types of cardamom
There are two main types of cardamom:
Photo credit: Neil Noble / Practical
Small green cardamom (Eletteria cardamomum)
Large red/black cardamom (Amomum subulatum Roxb)
The most common type is the small green cardamom while large cardamom is mainly grown in
India, with some in Nepal and Bhutan. They both come from the Zingiberaceae family of plants.
The Cardamom bush grows to a height of about 3m. It grows best in a warm humid place where
there is plenty of rain and rich soil. It can grow at altitudes up to 1370m above sea level. The
bush requires shade and is usually grown under natural forest cover. The tree produces flowers
after it is 2-3 years old. The first crop of seed capsules is harvested in the third year after
planting. In India, the tree flowers in April/May and continues until July/August. The seed
capsules are harvested at 30 to 40 day intervals.
Harvesting at the correct stage of maturity is essential to produce high quality cardamom
capsules. The fruits should only be harvested once they are fully ripe and mature. In some
places, farmers harvest the crop before it is fully ripe because they worry that it will be taken by
thieves. If the crop is picked when it is mature, the higher yields and higher value of the final
product may offset the losses due to theft. A ripe capsule has black seeds inside. An immature
capsule has white seeds.
When a cardamom capsule is ripe it can be easily removed from the stem of the plant without
too much force. The harvester should start harvesting at the base of each stem and move up the
stem, taking off any capsules that easily fall off without pulling. The capsules that do not fall off
easily should be left on the plant to ripen.
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