Amommum subulatum/ Black Cardamom; Picture Source: Wikipedia
Amommum tsao ko/ Chinese Black Cardamom; Picture Source:

Large cardamom is regarded as third most expensive spice worldwide after vanilla pods and saffron. It is also known as “Queen of Spices”. The botanical name of this spice is Amommum subulatum. The spice is cultivated in Nepal, India and Bhutan. Due to consistent growing demand, it has become one of the most desired cash crop among the farmers located in remote areas.

Though Amommum subulatum and Amommum aromaticum are the only varieties named as Black cardamom (Ravindran & Madhusoodanan, 2002). These days people may find Amommum tsao ko (Chinese: cao guo, Vietnamese: thảo quả) being marketed as the same (Wikipedia). It is very difficult to distinguish both spices from their physical appearances, whereas, the seed aesthetic and taste vary.

The comparisons between these two varieties are given below:

Amommum subulatum

Amommum tsao ko

  • Fruit a capsule, long ellipsoid, slightly curved, flat on one side, with three locules, approximately 20 seeds in each locule; pericarp grayish-brown to brown, with longitudinally winged ribs near the calyx apex, apex with long tubular persistent calyx.
  • Seeds ovoid-polyhedral, dark brown, slightly adhesive, with little remains of aril.
  • Odor: aromatic, smoky-like.
  • Taste: slightly pungent.

(Meng-hua, Wei, Ping, & Zhong-zhen, 2014)

  • Fruit a capsule, long ellipsoid, three-obtuse-ridged, with three locules, approximately 20 seeds in each locule; pericarp grayish-brown to brown, with longitudinal furrows and ribs, and a fruit stalk at the base.
  • Seeds conicalpolyhedral, reddish-brown, covered with grayish-white membranous aril, slightly shrunken.

  • Odor: aromatic.
  • Taste: pungent and slightly bitter.
  • Used in Vietnam and China as substitute of Black Cardamom.

(Meng-hua, Wei, Ping, & Zhong-zhen, 2014)


  • The Vietnamese variety of cardamom is available in market at much cheaper price as compared to the real ones.
  • For 1MT of A.tsao ko the price is USD 1000 – 1500 (Alibaba), whereas, for A. subulatum will cost USD 19000 – 29000 (Alibaba).
  • This price difference has made the market highly competitive for the farmers growing this product in remote areas. As they are mostly unaware of the reason of consistently decreasing price.
  • This has also diluted the value and quality of the product in market which is again not very good news for the producers and traders.

Works Cited

(n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia:

Alibaba. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Alibaba. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Meng-hua, W., Wei, Z., Ping, G., & Zhong-zhen, Z. (2014). Identification of seven Zingiberaceous species based on comparative anatomy of microscopic characteristics of seeds. Cinese Medicine .

(2002). Cardamom: The Genus Elettaria. In P. N. Ravindran, & K. J. Madhusoodanan, Cardamom: The Genus Elettaria (pp. 336-337). Taylor & Francis.

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