Cardamom made its appearance in Guatemala in the early nineteenth century. It was introduced by a young German named Oscar Kloeffer, to aromatise medicines. It soon spread throughout most of the country.
Cardamom looks like a series of small dark seeds encased in green, triangular-shaped pods. The aroma is bittersweet, and similar to that of a lemon.
One of the areas in which its cultivation has taken root most is the municipality of Ixcán, in the Quiché region, inhabited by indigenous people of five ethnic groups: the Q’eqchì, Q’anjob’al, Mam, Kichè and Ladinos, who are mainly dedicated to agriculture.
The spread of cardamom production has developed quite successfully in the area, especially in the years leading up to the turn of the 21st century, when sales prices were certainly high, given the great international demand (United States, Europe and especially the Arab countries). However, the contraction of the market in the last decade has led to a drastic reduction in prices with inevitable economic and social consequences for the local population.
Ixcán cardamom is produced by 130 families gathered in Asipoi (Asociación Integral de Productores Orgánicos de Ixcán). Today, the cultivation of this excellent cardamom covers about 30% of the agricultural area and involves just under 50% of the peasant population of Ixcán, who are forced to sell their product at cost price despite its high quality.
It is harvested manually about three times a year, in October, November and December. Ixcán cardamom is dried for about 24 hours and then sold as a powder, grain or seed.
It is used as a flavouring, for cooking or making drinks. It has antiseptic properties, facilitates digestion and is considered an antidote to the ailments of old age. Cardamom is also traditionally used in the Guatemalan "café de olla" served in terracotta cups or as chewing gum.
In 2007 Slow Food launched a Presidium for the Ixcán cardamom.