Cardamom Plantation VisitHome >> Experiences
Cardamom is the world's third most expensive spice and, with tea and tourism, is one of the three economic rivers ensuring the prosperity of the state of Kerala in India. Sure, they grow all kinds of spices and fruits, but cardamom is the king of them all. A local spice planter took me for a private tour of his grandfather's plantation outside Munnar, the capital of the Nilgiri hills.
If you listen to planters there is nothing cardamom will not do for you. On top of «adding spice to your years and years to your life», it will keep you fit, make your heart tick and keep inflation in check.
Tea requires sun but cardamon needs shade. Cardamom plantations are like huge woodland gardens with bamboo-palm-like shrubs cover the grounds. At the feet of these shrubs come out clusters of green fruits the size of an unshelled almond. If you break one with your fingers, the pungent smell of cardamom fills the air.
As you make your way on the paths under the cardamon undercanopy, the only noises you hear apart from your own are those of the numerous birds in the forest. Very atmospheric.
Cardamom needs a lot of water, and an irigation system is required to store the heavy rainfall when it comes during the monsoon in June. After about 15 minutes, we reached this artificial pond linked by a network of old pipes to various irrigation points spread across the plantation.
Captain Matthew, a former ship captain, started this plantation in the 1940s. His grandson led me through the plantation, explaining that his grandfather also grows various other spices for his own consumption, such as clove (above). You could pass this diminutive tree every day for a century and not notice its extraordinary properties until you rub the green cloves in your hand and see it exhale the most intense and delicious clove smell.
Here is one of captain Matthew's pineapples - a fearsome plant really. You can grow them from the heat of a pineapple you bought in the store by planting them in a pot and keeping it indoors.
Pepper is grown as a vine using coffee trees for support.
The pepper is green when on the tree and drying gives it its white or black color depending on when you harvest it.
They even grow vanilla in this garden of Cockaigne. Vanilla in an orchid that grows on trees. The vanilla pods do not smell at all and the inside, where the beans are, is rather caustic before processing. The actual processing is a complex process of steaming and keeping in a hot and humid room for days and is never done by the planters. They sell the green beans. Kerala probably makes the best cardamom in the world. Their tea - the other cash crop - is barely drinkable. As for vanilla I think most of it ends up in vanilla extract.
At last - cinammon! One of my favorite spices. It is the bark of an unimpressive tree. Unimpressive until you break a little of its bark in your hands and smell. Heavenly! The gentlemen at the plantation even gave me a pile of cinammon leaves - they smell just like the bark. And they also showed me a very large tree - wild cinammon - very much like campher and not something you'd eat.
Cardamom pods are harvested between October and December. The more they retain their green color, the higher the price, so planters dry the pods in special hot houses with a controlled temperature.
Wood is burnt in a furnace to heat water circulated in pipes over the whole house. The cardamom pods are spread on wire mesh trays and moved frequently to ensure uniform drying. The whole drying takes about 24 hours.
The dried pods are then pass through the barrel of this machine to remove dust and soil particles. Finally the planter passes the pods through sieves to grade the pods according to their size.
The best grade - it costs only about 12$ a kilogram, Munnar retail price. The cardamom we get in the West is of the very best quality anyway. Just remember that cardamom's subtle flavor quickly vanishes when exposed to the air and that pods will lose their flavor within a year or so. Never buy powdered cardamom. Always buy the whole pods and take the extra few seconds to extract the seeds and grind them.
If you stay at his hotel you can ask Mr Matthew to take you for a visit of his plantation about 10km away: