This is the spice commonly referred to as black or brown cardamom. It is a seed pod with an intense, smoky, resinous, and almost anti-septic camphor-like flavor. Both the seeds and pods are traditionally used to flavor hearty, savory dishes of certain regional cuisines of India and Pakistan. It is often used in garam masala mixes. The spice is called badi elaichi or kali elaichi in Hindi and Urdu.
Amomum subulatum (also known as Nepal cardamom).
The black or brown cardamom plant is a member of the ginger family like it's close relative the green cardamom. It has rather inconspicuous blossoms and the seed pods form at the base. The seed pods are dried and supposedly smoked before being sold for consumption. Black cardamom is unusual in that the flavor actually improves with age. The harsh camphor flavor mellows to smooth smoky notes over time.
|Look closely at the base of the plant to see its creamy yellow flowers.|
I had never seen, heard of, nor tasted black/brown cardamom before moving to the Subcontinent. I would reckon most westerners are not familiar with this spice either. Black/brown cardamom has the same sort of camphor/citrus notes as green cardamom but has a smokiness that's almost like bacon. So if your vegan friends miss that bacon-y smokiness in their beans or pea soup you can use black/brown cardamom!
The perfume by i Profumo di Firenze called "Ambra di Nepal" is said to have notes of amber, vanilla, and cardamom. I wonder if the accord described as "deep, rich resinous, like incense smoke swirling over dusty cardamom" contains this native Nepali black/brown spice, not the green or white cardamom we westerners are more familiar with in Scandinavian treats?