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Black Cardamom (Amomum subulatum Roxb.)


Arabicهيل اسود
هَيل أَسْوَد
Hal aswad
Bengaliবড়ো এলাচ
Boro elach
Bodoगोसोम इलाइसि
Gosom ilaisi
香豆蔻 [hēung dáu kau], 草果 [chóu gwó]
Heung dau kau; Chou gwo (Amomum tsao-ko)
香豆蔻 [xiāng dòu kòu], 草果 [cǎo guǒ]
Xiang dou kou; Cao guo, Tsao kuo (Amomum tsao-ko)
CzechKardamomovník šípový
DanishSort Kardemomme
Dogriबड़ी इलायची
Bari ilaichi
DutchZwarte kardemom
EnglishNepal cardamom, Greater Indian cardamom
EstonianMust kardemon
FrenchCardamome noir, Cardamome du Népal
GermanNepal-Cardamom, Schwarzer Cardamom
Greek (Old)Ἄμωμον
Gujaratiબડી ઈલાયચી, કાળી ઈલાયચી, એલચા
Badi ilaychi, Kali ilaychi, Elcha
Hindiबड़ी इलायची, बिग इलायची, काली इलायची, डोडा
Bari ilaichi, Big ilaichi, Kali ilaichi; Doda (Rajasthani language)
HungarianFekete kardamom
ItalianCardamomo nero
Sōka, Soka (Amomum tsao-ko)
Kannadaದೊಡ್ಡ ಐಲಕ್ಕಿ
Dodda ailakki
Kashmiriبڑہ عالہ, بڑہ ألہ
Bari aleh
Chogwa (Amomum tsao-ko)
LithuanianJuodasis kardamonas
Maithiliबऱी इँलाइची
Bari ilaychi
Malayalamകാട്ടേലം, കറുത്ത ഏലക്ക, കറുപ്പ് ഏലക്ക
Kattelam, Karutta elakka, Karuppu elakka (??)
Marathiमसाल्याची वेलची, वेलदोडे
Masalyachi velchi, Veldode
Naga (Angami)Alachi
Naga (Ao)Elaichi
Naga (Lotha)Jarumthi
Nepaliअलैंची, ठूलो सुकुमेल
Alaichi, Thulo sukumel
यला, ऐलां
Yala, Elam (??)
Punjabiਕਾਲੀ ਇਲੈਚੀ
Kali ilaichi
RomanianCardamom negru
RussianКардамон чёрный, Кардамон черный
Kardamon chyornyj, Kardamon chernyj
SanskritUpakunchika, Brihatupakunchika
SpanishCardamomo negro
Tamilகாட்டு ஏலம, கறுப்பு ஏலக்காய்
Katu elam, Karupu elakkai
Teluguనల్ల ఏలకులు
Nalla Elakulu
Urduبڑی الائچی, پوربی الائچی
Bari elaichi, Purbi elaichi
VietnameseThảo quả
Thao qua
Amomum spec.: Chinese black (brown) cardamom
Black cardamom from China; probably A. tsao-ko (Chinese cao-guo [草果])
Amomum subulatum: Nepalese black (brown) cardamom
Nepalese black cardamom
Used plant part

Seeds. Commonly, the large (typically, 3 cm), brown pods are sold as a whole.

Plant family

Zingiber­aceae (ginger family).

Sensory quality

Black cardamom has a fresh and aromatic aroma. Camphor is easily discernible in its odour. By virtue of the traditional drying procedure over open flames, the spice also acquires a strong smoky flavour. See also negro pepper for another example of a smoked spice.

Main constituents

The seeds contain 3% of an essential oil, which is dominated by 1,8-cineol (more that 70%). Smaller and variable amounts of limonene, terpinene, terpineol, terpinyl acetate and sabinene have also been reported (Phytochemistry, 9, 665, 1970)

Amomum subulatum: Black Cardamom pods growing near the base of the stems (Nepal)
Black Cardamom pods grow in clusters at the base of the stem
Amomum subulatum: Black Cardamom flower (Nepal)
Black Cardamom flower

Several species of the genus Amomum are distri­buted all over the moun­tainous area from the Hima­layas to Southern China. Further­more, some Afri­can card­amoms (genus Afra­momum, in Mada­gascar, Somalia and Cameroon; an­other member of this genus is the pungent West African spice grains of para­dise) have a similar taste and appear sporadi­cally on the Western market.

A. subulatum is native to the Eastern Himalayas; the main production regions are Nepal and Sikkim, a tiny Indian union state located between Nepal and Bhutan.


For the botanical genus name Amomum and for cardamom, see cardamom. The botanical species name subulatum derives from Latin subula awl, referring probably to the awl-shaped and pointed leaves.

The Indian names of black card­amom are usually formed from the name of green card­amom with an epi­thet meaning black (Hindi, Punjabi and Gujarati kali ilaichi [काली इलायची, ਕਾਲੀ ਇਲੈਚੀ, કાળી ઈલાયચી], Mala­yalam karutta elakka [കറുത്ത ഏലക്ക]) or (among the Northern languages) more often big (Hindi and Maithili bari ilaichi [काली इलायची, बऱी इँलाइची], Urdu bari elaichi [بڑی الائچی], Bengali boro elach [বড়ো এলাচ]); cf. also Anglo–Hindi big ilaichi [बिग इलायची]. An outlyer is Marathi masalyachi velchi [मसाल्याची वेलची] spicy cardamom.

Amomum subulatum: Group of Black Cardamom plants with yellow flowers (Nepal)
Group of Black Cardamom plants with yellow flowers

However, in a few lan­guages, un­marked ilaichi-type names refer to black card­amom; this is parti­cularly common in the Hima­laya (Nepali alainchi [अलैंची]) and among the Naga lan­guages in North Eastern India, where black but not green card­amom grows locally. Also, Oriya has aleich [ଅଳେଇଚ], which is rather sur­prising as neither card­amom type is native to Orissa. In these cases, the name of green card­amom is usually un­related. Another inter­­;esting case is Gujarati, which has regular names kali ilaichi [કાળી ઈલાયચી] black cardamom and badi ilaichi [બડી ઈલાયચી] big cardamom, but also an unmarked name yet etymologically related name, elcha [એલચા], which denotes black cardamom specifically.

Rajasthani language, which usu­ally agrees with Hindi in its culi­nary terms, has an in­de­pen­dent name for black card­amom, doda [डोडा]; this prob­ably cor­responds to black card­amom being of excep­tional impor­tance in the cooking of Rajasthan.

Selected Links

Indian Spices: Cardamom ( Chinese Herb Database: Villous Amomom Fruit New Black Cardamom Drying Technique ( Sorting Amomum names ( Black Cardamom Product Information ( INDU-Versand

Amomum subulatum: Nepalese black cardamom
Black cardamom plants in a private garden in Nepal
Amomum subulatum: Nepal cardamom plants
Black cardamom plants in Sikkim
Amomum subulatum: Brown cardamom pod within infrutescence (Nepal)
Single unripe pod
Amomum subulatum: Brown cardamom fresh pods (Nepal)
Group of black cardamom pods
Black card­amom is, in most books, de­scribed as an inferior sub­stitute to green card­amom, but this is simply un­true. In India, black card­amom has its special field of ap­pli­cation, and al­though green and black card­amoms are fre­quent­ly inter­changeable, the black variety is felt superior for spicy and rustic dishes, while green cardamom is much pre­ferred by the Imperial (Mughal) cuisine with its subtle blend of sweet fragrances.

Black cardamom can be used in rather liberal amounts, up to a few capsules per person. The smoky fra­grance of the pure spice is not dis­cernible in the finished dish; black card­amom cannot domi­nate a dish, but en­hances and in­tensi­fies the taste of other in­gredi­ents. The pods should be slightly crushed before usage, but not so much that the seeds are re­leased; you may re­move them before serving (though I do not), but if you don’t, be sure to warn your guests about dark, woody and, hmmm, in­ten­sive tasting objects in the sauce.

Black cardamom, as other spices used in Northern India, needs some time to develop its aroma best. This behaviour is shared by other unground spices, like cinnamon, cloves and green cardamom, all of which are popular in Northern India and mostly used unground (see also onion). Thus, it is generally a good idea to prepare Northern Indian dishes of braising type (kormas) a few hours or even one day in advance.

Amomum subulatum: Brown cardamom infrutescence (Nepal)
The dried flower remains attached to each pod in the cluster

Although there are many distinct species of black cardamom, ranging in pod size from 2 cm (A. subulatum, Nepal to North Vietnam) to more than 5 cm (A. tsao-ko, China), their tastes do not differ much, although only the Nepal variety is smoked. Apart from usage in Indian (and Nepali) cuisine, they are not much known, but have some regional importance in Central and Southern China. There, the ground seeds are an optional ingredient to the five spice powder (see star anise).

In the moun­tains of Sichuan province in central China, black cardamom is commonly employed in long-simmered meet stews together with other dried spices. Slowly simmered foods, parti­cularly of beef, are rather typical for Sichuan cookery (see Sichuan pepper for an example) and are less frequently found in other Chinese cooking styles. The term xiang liao [香料] fragrant grains refers to such mixtures of dried spices which are prepared differently for each recipe. Typical components of xiang liao are cassia, Sichuan pepper, black cardamom, star anise and lesser galangale; less commonly, Sichuan cooks employ greater galangale, cloves, nutmeg and licorice. See also cassia on another Chinese cooking technique that uses dried spices, namely master sauce.

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