Summer’s coming, the season in which I most like to fool around with perfume-making. I’ve made a couple of successful tinctures, one from dried oakmoss, one from tonka beans. I’ve used commercially produced green cardamom absolute, but haven’t seen the black variety. However, the international market where I shop features, in its enormous spice section, black cardamom pods as well as green ones.
Black cardamom is in the same botanical family (Zingiberaceae, or ginger) as green. The kind I’m using, Amomum subulatum, usually comes from Nepal. The pods are smoked over slow fires as a means of drying them. The result is an intense, but not too pungent, smoky aroma with a hint of wood.
The pods are full of gray, slightly fuzzy seeds which, when chewed (we here at Olfactarama believe in primary research) are smoky and a little bitter. Their smoky flavor merely hints at cardamom, and is not nearly as pungent, citric or long-lasting as the green’s.
This cardamom variety is used a lot in northern India, often in the ubiquitous garam masala spice mixture. I can see why it’s used to flavor cold-weather soups and stews. The smoky taste lends rusticity, but does not overwhelm a dish, and so can be used in rice dishes, dal and Chai spiced tea. Green cardamom is saved for more refined foods. This reminds me of the difference between the earthy Cajun cooking of South Louisiana in the U.S., vs. the much more French-influenced Creole cuisine of New Orleans.
Green cardamom has been popular in perfumery for a couple of decades, as in Declaration (Cartier), and Eau Parfumée Extrême (Bulgari), both from Jean-Claude Ellena. It’s a lot harder to find scents that feature the black variety, but Paco Rabanne’s Black XS lists it in some places, as does BBW’s “Noir” body spray for men, and Jo Malone’s Dark Amber and
Ginger Lily. I’m going to see if it makes a good “smoke” note. I’ve used cade oil, but it smells too much like barbecue to me, and a porky one at that.
(It should be noted that Grains of Paradise, a slightly different botanical sometimes called “Greater Cardamom” is not the same thing, although it too emits a spicy note. I’ve seen it used in botanical perfume. There is also a Chinese variety of black cardamom, which has much larger pods, generally isn’t smoked, and is used in the Sichuan province as a culinary spice.)
I was a little surprised to see black cardamom as an ingredient in a mass-market body spray like BBW’s Noir, but it does appear to be a little less expensive than the green variety. My market charges $17.39/pound for it, which, because the pods are very light, would be a whole lot of it. I’m going to tincture a little over an ounce and a half of the pods in a cup or so of perfumers alcohol, for a couple of months, and will replace the pods once during that time. If I get a smoky scent, laced with cardamom’s cineol and terpinenes, I will be happy!
the photo comes from onlyfoods.net
References: Gernot Ketzer's Spice Pages and "The New Perfume Handbook" by Nigel Groom