The queen of the spices. For the Indians it comes from the Cardamom Hills which dominate the Kerala plain and the Malabar coast to the south-west of India. It is a plant from the Zingiberaceae family, a close relative of ginger, turmeric and the Melegueta pepper.
Today it is cultivated in Cambodia, Vietnam, Sri Lanka and of course, India. It is a small seed which grows on the aerial roots of the plant, which are delicately hand-picked by women and then dried in the sun. There are two varieties of cardamom - green and black. The latter comes from Nepal, has a strong camphor taste and is not very useful in cooking. The white cardamom powder is made using the green pods and by adding starch or by soaking it in lime milk.
The small black grains in the green capsule are strongly aromatic with floral notes and a very fresh register of citrus and menthol, reminiscent of eucalyptus. Around 40,000 of these grains are needed to produce 1 kilo. It is traditionally used in India in pastry making. It is used in most spice mixes and is indispensable in tea. It is used in coffee in the Middle East.
Cinnamon belongs to the lauraceae botanical family. It originates from Ceylon. It is very widespread today in India, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Seychelles, Mauritius, Madagascar, the West Indies, Guyana, Brazil...
It is a tree bark. It is largely grown for the production of gasoline. Chinese cinnamon, "Laurus Cassia", also known as Chinese Cassia, comes from a tree from the same family. It grows in China, Laos, India and Indonesia.
The clove is the dried flower bud of the clove tree (Myrtaceae family). This tree is native to the Bat Jan islands, a micro archipelago in the centre of the Moluccas (Indonesia). The tree has travelled extensively and cloves are now found in many countries - Ambon, the Moluccas and Sumatra (Indonesia), Penang (Malaysia), Seychelles, Mauritius, Reunion, Zanzibar, Sri Lanka, India (states of Mysore and Travancore), the West Indies, Guyana, Madagascar etc.
The clove has a hot, sweet and spicy flavour. It is used by the pharmaceutical industry for its disinfectant, healing and anaesthetic powers. Its smell is inevitably reminiscent of the dentists'! It is also used by perfumers. You can create a wonderful home fragrance by studding an orange with cloves which is called a "pomander".
This plant from the umbelliferae family is native to Asia Minor. It is sometimes called Chinese parsley or cilantro. It is grown today at all latitudes and in particular in Europe, North America and North Africa.
You can eat the leaves and seeds. The latter have a very nice aroma of orange bark, citrus fruits, spices, wood, dry grass and aniseed.
Curry isn't a spice or even a complex mixture of spices, but is the term given to dishes served in a sauce containing spices mixed with "ghee" clarified butter, yoghurt or coconut milk. The English word "curry", originates from the Indian Kari (originally a Tamil word "khari" meaning "sauce") and is also the name of a vegetable dish from the Madras region. In today's language the word "curry" refers to a type of "masala".
These mixtures of spices are called "masalas". They vary according to their uses and each family has its own recipes. The impressive number of spices in the composition of these mixtures and the enormous subtlety of the proportions are kept secret by the masalachis or "mixers".