The name cardamom is used for herbs within two genera of the ginger family Elettaria and Amomum. Both varieties take the form of a small seedpod, triangular in cross-section and spindle-shaped, with a thin papery outer shell and small black seeds. Elettaria pods are light green in color, while Amomum pods are larger and dark brown.
Both forms of cardamom are used as flavorings in both food and drink, as cooking spices and as a medicine. Elettaria cardamomum (the usual type of cardamom) is used as a spice, a masticatory, and in medicine; it is also smoked sometimes. Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intensely aromatic fragrance. Cardamom is best stored in pod form, because once the seeds are exposed or ground, they quickly lose their flavor. However, high-quality ground cardamom is often more readily (and cheaply) available, and is an acceptable substitute. In the Middle East, green cardamom powder is used as a spice for sweet dishes as well as traditional flavoring in coffee and tea. Cardamom pods are ground together with coffee beans to produce a powdered mixture of the two, which is boiled with water to make coffee. Cardamom is also used in some extent in savory dishes. In Arabic, cardamom is called al-Hayl. In Persian, it is called hel. In some Middle Eastern countries, coffee and cardamom are often ground in a wooden mortar and cooked together.