CARDAMOM, GUATEMALA’S GREEN GOLD
Known by many of us as a spice in the kitchen, and often called the “queen of spices”, cardamom isn’t only incredible on the tongue!
If you’re not a spicy dish person, you’ve probably heard of the trendy chai latte, a hot drink made of tea, spices and milk! Well...cardamom happens to be one of the main spices in this delicious and much appreciated drink.
This green and scented seed has been used since ancient times by Man.
Legend tells that Semiramis, the queen of the ancient Hanging Gardens of Babylon (Irak nowadays), used to give her exhausted lovers cardamom wine. Believed to be an aphrodisiac, Cleopatra herself perfumed her palace with cardamom before her encounters with her beloved Marc Anthony.
Introduced to Guatemala right before World War I, Cardamom is today one of the country’s most grown raw material, and their second highest source of income, holding 1% of the total PIB!
Four perfumes of Olfactive Studio’s Black and Sepia Collections, such as Lumière Blanche, feature this exotic spice, that embalms the Guatemalan jungle.
CARDAMOM ESSENCE IN OLFACTIVE STUDIO’S PERFUMES
The cardamom spice possesses an undoubted olfactive charm both discrete and unique, making it one of the most interesting spices used in perfumery!
Lumière Blanche is a very soft and subtle fragrance. If the top of the perfume is certainly spicy, it has the particularity to be woody from the first notes. Despite their low volatility of heart/base notes, the woods already strike us! Our nose meets both "cold" and "hot" spices. We find among the cold spices the essence of Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) which is distinguished by its zesty facet (but not citrusy!), and the essence of Star Anise (Illicium verum), also called Badiane, bringing a small anis note combined with a slight touch of licorice, one of its characteristic facets.
As for the hot spices, they are embodied by their leader, the essence of Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) very cinnamic (a word sharing the same etymology that refers to the spicy scent of Cinnamon) but also remarkably woody, and slightly sweet thanks to the almondy notes that follow!
The heart is adorned with a beautiful Iris (Iris pallida) revealing its powdery-iris facet that reminds us of the vintage Rice powder accord providing a "cosmetic" effect. This accord was indeed very common among 19th century face powders and lipsticks. It is combined to a creamy Almond milk accord offering balsamic, and coumarin notes, (from the coumarin molecule which possesses an almond scent). This accord's sweet aspect is perfectly combined to the Tonka bean (Dipterix odorata), which is also has almondy and vanilla facets.
Note that Cinnamon is very interesting in compositions when it meets Sandalwood, just like in Lumière Blanche.
In this spicy-powdery-woody fragrance, the essence of Sandalwood (Santalum album) is omnipresent, we sense it from the top of the fragrance, and until the base. It even leaves a wonderful trail that lasts wonderfully on the skin! We meet the Sandalwood in all its splendor with its rich side reminiscent of yellow flowers, and its silky lactonic facet. The essence of Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana), both woody-dry and raw, underlines the warm and woody base of this contrasted perfume.
Musks, especially Cashmeran with its singular earthy aspect, stand out with their creamy facet, and thus join the lactonic facet of Sandalwood and Almond milk. Their combination accentuates the soft and milky effect of the fragrance.
Lumière Blanche gives us a warm-cold sensation from head to toe, while enveloping us in a soft, spicy-milky veil reminiscent of the comforting chai tea.
In Chypre Shot, Oakmoss is combined with Patchouli essence to form the signature chypre accord.
Chypre Shot has a very citrusy top note, simultaneously zesty and tangy, in which Bergamot (Citrus bergamia), with its earl grey tea side is clearly perceived.
The spices do not escape our nose, in this case we smell the Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) with its zesty and cinnamic facet, which stands out among many others, and the Saffron accord that reveals itself more in the heart of the fragrance, with its fruity facet. The woody aspect of the fragrance is present from the start.
In the heart, the overall becomes resinous, and peppery-woody due to the essence of Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), which offers us a very elegant facet. Chypre Shot also has a floral aspect, quite discreet but essential to the composition of a Chypre, it is a delicate Peony accord that we sense, with tender nuances of Rose Absolute (the peony is a so-called "mute" flower whose smell cannot be extracted, and is therefore reconstituted in a laboratory using synthetic molecules). The Coffee Absolute (Coffea arabica) with facets of both tobacco and chicory, is combined to a Black tea accord (where Bergamot accentuates the earl grey effect), and makes us plunge into an almost culinary accord, awakening our taste buds.
As for the base of the perfume, it is adorned with notes such as the essence of Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin), a very particular wood with earthy and humus facets. The Oakmoss Absolute (Evernia prunastri) is also reminiscent of the undergrowth by its woody-mossy aspect. These two form the basis of the chypre accord described above. The base of the fragrance also offers a warm leathery side, in which the Coffee Absolute and the Oakmoss Absolute participate with their common leathery facet.
The little dark chocolate note that we distinguish is due to Patchouli (component of the chocolate accord). The so pronounced ambery note is none other than the Labdanum Absolute (Cistus ladanifer), an ambery raw material, with balsamic, dried fruits (highlighted by the fruity facet of saffron) and animal facets.
Chypre Shot is an original modern chypre, opulent, full of depth, and reminds us of oriental perfumes by its raw materials (bergamot, peony accord, labdanum, patchouli). Its addictive scented trail is truly bewitching.
At the top of Leather Shot we immediately feel the citrus, acidic facet of the Orange Bigarade! Also known as Sweet Orange (Citrus aurantium), this one matches perfectly the zesty, lemon-like facet of Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum). This spice so appreciated by fine fragrance also has a peppery side that gives an aromatic dimension to the perfume top notes.
In the heart of the fragrance, another spice is found, none other than Cumin (Cuminum cyminum), more discreet but distinguishable by the Femme de Rochas effect it provides and its sensual facet, with leathery accents. The mythical spicy-fruity fragrance created in 1944 by Edmond Roudnitska was born from an overdose of cumin!
No need to wait for the base of Leather Shot to perceive the leathery notes, reminiscent of a smooth leather. The Iris (Iris pallida) with its woody-dry facet is felt in the heart and persists in the base. Black Tea absolute (Camellia sinensis) evoking the characteristic Ceylon tea offers a natural effect and compliments the leathery facet. The base of the fragrance nicely holds the leathery heart, a modern and reinvented leather.
Sandalwood (Santalum album) and Cedar (Juniperus virginiana) intermingle in a strong woody base with Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanoide). If the first is lactonic and rich, with a facet reminiscent of yellow flowers and orientals, the second stands out for its naturalness recalling the great cedar forests of Virginia. The Driftwood accord goes hand in hand with its woody peers and Vetiver does not go unnoticed with its nutty and smoky facet, which blends very well with the leathery notes. The combination is very harmonious, offering a persistent freshness throughout the evaporation of the different raw materials.
Leather Shot is a leathery fragrance, both spicy and woody, with a touch of citrus and powdery notes, that confer a very elegant allure to it.
The start possesses a bursting and metallic facet attributed to Iris aldehydes. We immediately perceive the Iris (Iris pallida), modern and powdery, as usual. Its woody-dry, earthy, almost dusty side radiates the fragrance from the heart. The top is also very spicy offering us the finesse of the essence of Cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum), both fresh by its zesty and aromatic side which does not escape us, and warm by its cinnamic and oriental facet.
The " queen of spices ", marries its colder but equally delicious mate, the Pink berry of Madagascar (Schinus molle), which doubles the aromatic facet with its peppery side. It also merges the top and the heart of this soliflore through its floral aspect. Blackcurrant bud absolute (Ribes nigrum), a natural raw material of the green family with a distinctive sulfuric side, brings vitality and naturalness to the ensemble.
Iris Shot is a consistent and linear Iris, faithful to its precious rhizomes, whose scent can only be extracted after 6 years (three years of cultivation and three years of drying).
The Almond milk accord is gradually revealed by its soft and almondy facet, reminiscent of unctuous flavored desserts. This balsamic note rounds out the proud Iris to sweetly envelop it. The essence of Carrot Seed (Daucus carota), accentuates the beautiful Iris even more as both ingredients share a woody, earthy facet, truly rooted in the soil. Very "heart" fragrance by its star flower, the base still finds its place as Virginian Cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana), brings a different woody dimension, more resinous, evoking the bark of the American tree.
The Haitian Vetiver (Chrysopogon zizanoïde), brings a moist touch contrasting with the dry character of the other ingredients, as well as a smoky facet of its own! Ambroxan, which appropriately bears its name, brings a powerful ambery note to the base, contributing to the fragrance's substantivity.
An elegant and cocoon-like fragrance, Iris Shot explores genres by bringing back to life a beautiful flower, long associated with rice powders and lipsticks in cosmetics.
SO, WHAT EXACTLY IS CARDAMOM?
Botanically speaking, cardamom belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, among which some plants of the Elettaria and Amomum genus produce seeds. So, what’s the link between these seeds and the cardamom spice? They are basically the same!
Does Zingiberaceae ring a bell? Turmeric (Curcuma longa) and ginger (Zingiber officinalis) are both part of this botanical family, the same one as cardamom.
The Cardamom employed in perfumery comes from the specie Eletteria cardamomum, whose Latin name comes from Greek kardamômon (ƙαρδάμоμоν).
Cardamom plants are perennial, herbaceous plants that grow in tropical and subtropical lands, and can reach 5 meters high! Not only does it have thick rhizomes (outer roots) and dainty white flowers with some red or yellow, resembling that of an orchid, but it possesses so called “dry capsule” fruits.
The secret of cardamom lies in these “capsules” or small seed pods, corresponding to the plant’s fruit, which each hide between 10 and 20 black aromatic seeds.
These pods can easily be recognized by their distinctive appearance, small oval-shaped covered by a thin shell and containing small black seeds.
The pods you see are small in size and have a light green color? That’s the Eletteria genus you’re looking at! You found some more but larger and dark brown? There goes the Amomum genus, not used in perfumery as opposed to its sister genus, but so tasty!
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
Cardamom was first mentioned in Sumer (Mesopotamia) and Ayurvedic (India) writings, and was initially employed for its numerous medicinal and aromatic properties.
Native to the Indian subcontinent, geographically consisting in Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, and to Indonesia, the spice was brought to Western Asia and the Occident during Antiquity.
AND WHERE IS IT FOUND TODAY?
Until the 21st century, India was the largest producer of this peculiar spice, but in 1914, a German coffee planter named Oscar Majus Kloeffer introduced cardamom to Guatemala.
In 2000, the Central-American country became the world’s first supplier of cardamom, producing between 25 and 29 thousand tons each year. Nowadays, India comes as the second biggest exporter of cardamom, producing 15 thousand tons annually.
AN ANCIENT PRECIOUS PRODUCT
Used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, cardamom has always been known to help digestion, stimulate the organism, to treat sore throats, and to soothe nausea. In India cardamom leaves are employed to add taste to dishes. Some cardamom flavored cigarettes can even be found on the market!
In ancient Egypt cardamom was chewed in order to have whiter teeth and fresher breath, to make scented wax, and even papyrus. In Ancient Greece, and later in Rome, the seeds were already employed for medical purposes as well as in the kitchen!
In oriental countries such as Palestine, Lebanon, and Israel, cardamom is mixed with coffee to give it a tasty spicy twist. It can also be found in desserts from that area. Another part of the world which uses cardamom in sweets are Scandinavian countries, where gingerbread, and cakes contain the spice.
THE DIFFERENT VARIETIES OF CARDAMOM
Now that you’re familiar with the two genuses, let’s take a look at the two main varieties you’ll mostly come across.
First, we have the true cardamom, also called green cardamom because of its color, it’s given by the Eletteria cardamomum specie. When bleached, green cardamom is called white cardamom (not to be mistaken with Siam cardamom or Amomum krervanh which is naturally white).
Second comes the less popular black cardamom. Also called brown, greater or Nepal cardamom, it is given by the Amomum subulatum specie, and endemic to the eastern Himalayan mountains.
The most eye-catching part is we didn’t have to wait until the 21st century to tell these two varieties apart! In fact, Theophrastus, the Greek father of botany had already distinguished the two kinds of cardamom in the fourth century BCE : κάρδαμον and ἄμωμον .
He had investigated their origins and discovered that they were both endemic to India, despite their wide presence in the Greek empire and Occident.
Despite it being cultivated in Guatemala for 107 years, Cardamom hasn’t always been considered a crop with economic potential. It started as an ornamental plant, and it took time for the country to understand they could profit from it. Oscar Majus Kloeffer first brought the plant to Cobán, the capital of the central cardamom- and coffee-growing department of Alta Verapaz.
THROUGH CONFLICT AND PEACE
Guatemala had an armed conflict for many years and since the spice is grown by small producers in rural areas where the fights took place, the expansion of the cultures was slowed down during that time.
The producers were either part of the guerilla, and therefore fighting on the front lines, or did not take part in the war but owned lands in the middle of the fights between the army and the guerrilleros, making it very complicated for them to grow the ingredient. After the peace treaties were signed, the Guatemalan Cardamom era began, from 1998 until now.
The Cardegua association(Associacion de Cardamomeros de Guatemala) was created at the same time, and Cardamom culture really started to expand at that period.
A PROFITABLE INGREDIENT
Nowadays Cardamom is the first product in the PIB, generating more money than historical products like banana, sugar cane and coffee. For Guatemala it’s a whole economy involving 2 million out of 16,4 million habitants, which represents about 20% of the whole population, among which 15% benefit directly from Cardamom since they produce it, and 5% benefit indirectly from it because they are part of its long supply chain, that possesses many actors (transforming, commercializing, exporting).
Cardamom is a very important plant for Guatemala despite the fact that it’s not consumed locally: 99,9% is exported and the remaining 0,01% is used in local sweets, and experimentally in local dishes to incorporate cardamom in Guatemalan culture.
HOW AND WHERE IS CARDAMOM GROWN IN THE COUNTRY?
The harvest takes place in August and September, depending on the location and starting with the warmest regions. The crops of cardamom flower all year long, but the flowering is very dense three times a year, which allows three harvests in the year, starting in August and ending between April and May. The flowering process actually marks the end of a harvest, which incites the plant to heavily flower again, and produce new seeds.
This activity is done in the countryside by families who possess small crops in rural areas, from the maintenance of the plants until their harvest. When the crops are larger, neighbor producers help out each other.
Today the culture takes place in 5 different regions: Quiche, Huehuetenango, Izabal, Baja Verapaz, and Alta Verapaz (Cobán), being the historical one and holding 70% of the country’s production.
The rural area of Cobán is located at 1500m nevertheless the cardamom crops are located at a lower altitude, at 200, 400 and 700m, but never higher. It is no wonder the plant is specifically cultivated there, since temperature is much warmer with the same amount of precipitations, which are optimal conditions for the crops.
Environmentally speaking, the culture of cardamom isn’t the cleanest since 300 thousand m3 of wood are used each year to dehydrate the seeds, which corresponds to 35 ha of deforestation. On another hand, the use of pesticides is not widespread since one out of every hundred producer uses them.
Guatemala is a country in which the ecological consciousness barely exists, and where ambiental costs have never been taken into account.
As for water, the country is both tropical and humid, meaning that it rains all year long, naturally irrigating the crops which need 80% humidity to ideally develop in their habitat. The plant itself is actually 90% water and 10% organic material.
The plant also likes coolness and is cultivated underneath endemic conifer forests in many cases, to benefit from natural shade.
WHAT ABOUT QUANTITIES AND LOGISTICS?
Producers grow five to ten quintals (the old Spanish measuring unit used in the business) or 45 kilograms per year. Right at the end of the harvest, they sell their cardamom on the side of the road, along which pass the stockpilers who weigh the sale before loading it in their pickup truck. These bring it to the dehydrating plants, which can dry 50 quintals (2250kg) at once. Then the dried seeds are sold to a bigger municipal stockpiler who buys cardamom until he can fill an entire truck.
Once dried, cardamom can last two years without having its quality degrade, but it cannot be exploited if it isn’t dehydrated within 24 hours after its harvest. This explains why the small farmers must harvest their cardamom one day before the stockpiler comes by. Finally, the trucks drive to the capital where the cardamom is sold to exporters. The bigger stockpilers have more freedom of sale since they sell the dried product to the exporter or export it themselves.
A MAJOR OBSTACLE : THE SUPPLY CHAIN
In the supply chain of cardamom, we have the small producer, the buyer or stockpiler, the transformer (who dehydrates the product), the bigger stockpiler, and the exporter. The stockpiler collects the dry product and classifies it according to different qualities: the greener the seed the better the quality.
Cardamom is then sold to the exporter who packs it and sends it abroad depending on his orders. Therefore, there is no direct exportation from a small producer to a foreign client.
Until now every idea given to grow and produce cardamom has been an adaptation of what’s done in the country with coffee. Whether it’s the dehydration process (cutting, drying, packaging), or the infrastructures because both plants share the same life cycle: flowering, plant growth and regeneration (every 4 months), and harvesting stage.
The long supply chain makes it very hard to trace the origin of the product and harder to give it any certification (organic, fair trade). Moreover, the comfortable rentability of the uncertified product has not put any pressure on the producers to obtain any certification.
Furthermore, little studies have been conducted on cardamom in the country, regarding its chemical components and their pharmaceutical potential, forbidding its extension towards other markets such as the health sector.
Associations and firms like Cardegua and Fedecovera have been trying to reduce precarity and shorten this chain, so that small producers can one day export worldwide.
GREEN, BUT GOLD WORTHY!
The queen of spices is an expensive ingredient! The year 2020 was a good year for value, the quintal was worth 1200$ which is equivalent to 26,6$/kg. Worldwide, it is the second most expensive spice after saffron.
Economically speaking it is Guatemala’s second most important income generating 2,5 billion dollars yearly thanks to its export, followed by the money sent by Guatemalan migrants abroad to their families (especially from the United States of America).
Like many other Latin American countries, the culture of cardamom faces problems like stealing, national insecurity, and little police presence. The crops are also located in areas with little access, and the payments are all done in cash which allows the prices to rise and the small producers to have a good income. This income could be even better if the culture didn’t encounter the problems listed above and if the supply chain wasn’t so long.TARGETING AN INTERNATIONAL MARKET
Guatemala barely has any competitors since it’s the major exporter of cardamom in the world. The country exports an average of 35 thousand metric tons per year (1 metric ton equals 980 kilograms). During the hardest years they exported barely 30 thousand metric tons, and during the best ones they reached 45 thousand metric tons.
The production depends on the international market and the country’s biggest competitor is the spice’s motherland, India, with an annual production between 25 and 30 thousand metric tons and export of only 10 thousand metric tons (the rest being consumed locally).
Worldwide, the demand is 45 thousand metric tons, 35 coming from Guatemala, 10 from India, and the remaining 5 are split between smaller producing countries (Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Costa Rica, Nepal). During the best producing years of the country, the prices drop since the offer for the product is higher than the demand.
In 2019 India was the victim of a hurricane that destroyed many crops forcing the population to only consume locally the little cardamom they produced. This led Guatemala to increase their yearly income thanks to higher sales because of an increased demand, compensating India’s exportation deficit.
India is not only Guatemala’s first competitor in terms of volume, but mainly because of its geographical position making it closer to Arab countries which are the biggest buyers of cardamom in the world. Migration from these countries towards European countries is very common and has opened new markets for this ingredient in countries where there was barely any demand for it in the past.
Guatemalan cardamom producers are afraid the Arabian world’s cardamom consumption drops in the upcoming decades, because local customs tend to faint or disappear in many countries. This fear is based off a study which showed that the Arabic youth was less eager to consume cardamom than their elders.
A CULTURE LEFT ALONE
Despite the importance of cardamom for the country, it’s a culture that’s always been abandoned by the government. The only institution that supports its growth in Guatemala is Cardegua. If other cultures such as that of beans, coffee, sugarcane and banana constantly receive subventions from the government and are the object of research programs to improve technologies and expand their production, cardamom growers have never received any type of help from another institution besides Cardegua.
This situation remains frustrating for the actors of cardamom, since it is the most exported agricultural product of the country, and generates more income than any other crop!
Because of the little help this culture has received, no innovating techniques have been brought to the country, leading most exporters to sell the unchanged raw material (as opposed to the essence).
Very few companies transform the raw material in essential oil. For example, only two of Cardegua’s producers conduct the hydrodistillation process. More than 98% of exports concern the raw material and less than 2% the essential oil.
Most exporters are not aware of the final use of their product but suppose it is used in gastronomy, and very little in cosmetics, and pharmacy.
AND ROOTED IN RACISM
It is believed this situation is partly due to the political status of the country, being a Latin American country with very marked discrimination, between the higher and lower social classes.
Racism is reflected in the repartition of the land: more than 95% of the cultivable lands are owned by 1% of the population, and only the remaining 5% belongs to the 99% of the population.
These lands are filled with monocultures supported by the state’s politics, which encourages investment in sugar cane, banana, and coffee production because their business is managed only by a few persons: the descendants of colons.
In the case of cardamom, since 95% of the national production comes from small farmers of the lower class, no help or investment has ever been given to them since they don’t belong to this restrained group of higher class.
Guatemala still functions with a colonial system, ever since the peace treaties were signed, the same 12 powerful families hold the power until today. Every decision they take is in their interest, especially in the rural areas.
Where cardamom is grown, is also where the locals most suffered discrimination, as the internal conflict took place is those still profoundly marked regions. These areas also have hydroelectric exploitations, mines, oil, which unsurprisingly benefit from investments cardamom doesn’t.
Ironically many people with high positions in offices don’t know anything about cardamom. Some of them are congress members: district representants from the cardamom producing regions such as Alta Verapaz.
CARDEGUA, AN ASSOCIATION FOR GROWTH
Cardegua is a non-lucrative association formed by 52 associates, which participate in different parts of the supply chain: production and transformation but mostly the stockpile (collection), and export.
Out of these 52, most of them are small-scaled stockpilers and producers and some are bigger ones: the biggest produces 500 quintals or 20 thousand kg per year). Fedecovera (group of smaller cooperatives) is among these, who transform the seeds into essence, and also work with other plants, mainly spices like pepper, vanilla, clove.
The association’s main goal is to improve the quality of cardamom production across the country. To do so they complete studies, establish reports, provide technical assistance and innovative processes. The entirety of these services is provided at no cost for the farmers.
Cardegua is able to finance its activities thanks to its associates (private sector) who by investing in them, invest in the amelioration of cardamom production on a national scale. Cardegua is the only association of this kind, conducting such mission.
The association’s support is fully inclusive and doesn’t regard their crops’ size nor their eventual alliance with other farmers from the community, since their goal is to raise the quality on a national scale. Farmers play the most important role for such goal to be attained.
Cardegua's operations are split into projects, defined on certain areas, for a given amount of time (1 or 2 years). Besides the amelioration of quality, the association’s mission is to explain to farmers that if they organize themselves, they can break the supply chain (shorten it), therefore bettering their economical conditions.
By conducting this process, Cardegua focuses on the social aspect of the community, making sure there is a safe food supply, that farmers invest wisely the money they make, better their academical education, send their kids to school.
Often Cardegua makes a list of the community’s needs at the start of the project, inquire the possible investments that can be done (buying a dryer to dehydrate the seeds, building a school), and explain to them the pros and cons. Sometimes the community is able to come to an agreement and make a decision, but not always as sometimes they want something else (roadwork, new meeting room).
ACTING FOR A BETTER FUTURE
Cardegua's main goal is to build something where they pursue the project and obtain good results overall, socially, economically, and family wise.
They establish strategic partnerships with other institutions that work on different plants’ crops to support each other and share experiences.
They also team up with NGOS, such as Mercy Corps, which focuses on health matters like vaccine checkups, child malnutrition, or other organizations to focus on economical matters like women’s savings groups, family orchards to increase the yield (more quantity cultivated in less space), access and break links in the supply chain, and obtain an organic certification (a true added value).
Ambiental matters are also addressed, such as improving the population’s environmental conscience.
Programs of forestry incentives, in which one is paid to reforest or take care of forests. Among communities, farmers have “communal areas” occupied by forests, and sign up to these programs to increase their income.
The largest project had 35 technicians, each in charge of between 10 and 15 communities, acting in 3 municipalities. As you may imagine it is very difficult to support and bring help to 2 million people, and cover all municipalities in the entire country.
To pursue their mission, the ideal would be support from the ministry of agriculture which deploys 35 technicians for each municipality for their projects with others crops!
Cardegua has 8 technicians, and in total 12 persons working for the association nowadays, a very low staff number for the current projects.
One of the most important firm in the business, Fedecovera, brings technical assistance to the cooperatives they work with, or tools just like a dryer to dehydrate the seeds and fertilizer. In exchange of this support, these small farmers must sell the 10 quintales they produce per year to the company.
By establishing these cooperatives, the company can have the monopole of the supply in a chosen area and settle the sales prices. Fedecovera buys their cardamom and exports it. Nevertheless farmers often partly declare their production, and betray the cooperative by selling a part of their production to other buyers offering them a more interesting sales price.
THE CARDAMOM THRIPS: A CURSED QUALITY
Since 2011, cardamom crops have been affected by a disease transmitted by the thrips insect pest (Sciothrips cardamomi), a millimeter sized insect which exists in different varieties and has already touched banana, tomato, pineapple and cucumber crops in the past. It affects the quality of the product, and damages 35% of the production each year. The alteration of the product is done at the level of the shell, where the insect damages the product, altering its aesthetics and quality.
Studies have shown the chemical composition of the damaged fruit is of lesser quality than a healthy fruit, the development of the fruit is stopped and the quantity of seeds produced is lower than usual.
Thrips affects the entire plant making it use its energy to fight against the harm it endures, instead of producing more fruits, impacting the production. Nevertheless, the damaged seeds (thrips quality), were sold to buyers with less resources.
Before 2011, only 25% of the production was classified as second and third quality and 75% of first quality.
After the plague, only 15% of the seeds were classified as first quality, 50% as second and third quality, and 35% as thrips quality seeds.
CARDAMOM IN PERFUMERY
The main producing countries of cardamom for the perfume industry are Guatemala, Sri Lanka (Ceylan) and India. It is also cultivated in smaller proportions in Honduras, Indonesia, Vietnam and Tanzania!
In India, the fruits are hand-picked between September and December.
The seeds are treated by hydro-steam distillation to obtain its essential oil (or essence), which appears as a light-yellow liquid. Cardamom absolute also exists, and is obtained by a volatile solvent extraction. CO2 Cardamom extracts can also be found but are very expensive because of their high-end extraction procedure.
Cardamom essential oil’s average price is 150€ per kilogram. There are no particular regulations on its usage in perfumes as it isn’t limited by the IFRA (International Fragrance Association) and as it doesn’t contain any allergens.
Fine fragrance has a long love story with cardamom, since it adores its elegant scent, both spicy and delicate, adding a refined heart note to any composition.
Oriental perfumes along with Eaux de colognes have offered it among their top notes for decades, just like chypre and woody fragrances. Thanks to its fresh and zesty facets, it didn’t take long for floral and citrus perfumes to adopt its scent as well.
If nowadays cardamom is among the most appreciated and explored raw material in niche perfumes for women and men, it was essentially employed in feminine perfumes for a significant time.
A UNIQUE SCENTED SPICE
Cardamom essence unsurprisingly belongs to the spicy olfactive family and possesses fresh, zesty, peppery and aromatic facets, reminding that of cinnamon, lemon and eucalyptus.
It is a top/heart note as it is both very aromatic and spicy, volatile and persisting in the heart of a fragrance.
In fine fragrance, Guatemalan cardamom is preferred over Indian cardamom, as its scent is considered more complex and delicate, making it a more striking top note!
When composing, its essence is used to bring freshness to spicy notes. It’s commonly associated to Pepper essence and Pink pepper essence. It goes without saying Cardamom marvellously allies to other spices, along with other exotic raw materials such as coffee, tea, and chocolate notes.
Its zesty facet allows it to perfectly marry citrus ingredients, together they bring vitality to the start of a fragrance. It’s also interesting when combined with woody notes as well as transparent floral notes (which have an abstract fresh floral scent that doesn’t correspond to a particular flower).
NOT A NEWBIE IN PERFUMES
It’s no secret many famous perfumes contain cardamom. Classics such as Déclaration by Cartier, composed by perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena in 1998 ; Nu by Yves Saint Laurent created by Jacques Cavallier in 2002 ; Si Lolita by Lolita Lempicka composed by Christine Nagel and Benoît Lapouza in 2009, and Alien by Thierry Muller, all feature the delicate spice.
When it comes to woody fragrances, they also love the warm trail the luxurious cardamom offers, just like Bulgari for Man. The refined note has another wonderful ability, it exhales citrus ingredients thanks to their common fresh soury facet, just like in Bulgari’s l’Eau Parfumée au Thé Vert.
GET READY FOR SOME CHEMISTRY
In terms of chemical composition, Cardamom’s main components are α-terpineol, a molecule with a fresh aromatic and conipherous scent, which accounts for 45% of the essence, terpenes such as myrcene, limonene and sabinene, molecules with strong terpenic aromas (similar to that of fresh paint) and zesty lemon-like scent for limonene, representing respectively 27%, 8% and 2% to 14% of the essence. Aromatic molecules such as menthone and eucalyptol, offering cold facets respectively minty and conipherous. The first one accounts for 6%, and the second one for 2% to 50% of the essence, depending on the source.
The essential oil also contains famous molecules found in numerous natural raw materials such as geraniol (one of roses’ main components) linalol (rosewood’s main components), linalyl acetate (one of bergamot’s main component), camphor and borneol (molecule contained in many conipherous ingredients like pine essence).
These pourcentages are an average, as each oil batch slightly differs from another in terms of molecular compounds’ proportion.
The higher the plant grows, the more eucalyptol the seed, and therefore the oil contains. This means that high altitude cardamom offers a more aromatic, conipherous scent!
Just like altitude, storage conditions of this raw material are a factor on the olfactory given of its essence. The seeds contain at most 8% of essence within them.
HYDRODIFFUSION GUATEMALA’S ESSENCE
Hydrodiffusion Guatemala is a Guatemalan company which has been in the cardamom business for no less than 37 years. Today it is the first exporter of cardamom essential oil in the country!
In their factory located in the capital, the raw material is checked for quality control as soon as it arrives from the farms. Humidity, density, and pesticides levels are established and only conforming batches are kept to be treated.
The selected seeds are crushed into small pieces in a shredding mill, then put in the distillation tank where hydrodistillation happens. The entire process takes seven hours to obtain a qualitative essential oil.
The clear liquid is then filtered to eliminate impurities, and the newly produced oil is stored in appropriate tanks. The oil is then exported to foreign countries by plane.
According to the company’s knowledge in the field, the best essential oil is obtained from a mature fruit (containing the seed) which tends to be bigger, more robust, contains a bit of honey, and possesses a more pleasant scent.
Once extracted, ready-seeds’ cardamom essence contains all the facets appreciated by perfumers, whereas the younger and more tender seeds only contains some top notes making it a less complex and interesting product.
The firm classifies their essential oil in six qualities depending on the quantity of molecules contained within the analysed batch. A higher heart notes proportion is valued over a higher top notes one, because of the facets they offer and their longer lasting properties.
Anna Grézaud-Tostain for Olfactive Studio