The Cardamom/Coffee Connection

Spices: Cardamom is our featured spice for this quarter, and a good lesson in the vagaries of spice trading. The price for decorticated (seed pod removed) quality has almost tripled recently due to some unusual developments: 1) the Muslim holiday of Ramadan came early this year. Most of the world's crop of Cardamom is used in Arab countries to flavor coffee. Coffee is a very popular beverage in these countries and seems to be especially popular during Ramadan, when people are required to fast from sunrise to sundown every day. Consequently, in order to eat at all, they must rise before the sun daily to take their entire day's nourishment until nightfall. As one may imagine, coffee is considered helpful during this entire lunar month of fasting and Cardamom is always used in coffee. 2) The quality of the crop this year was excellent. Decorticated Cardamom, which is used in baking and in tobacco flavorings in the U. S. and in Europe, is made from lower quality seed which is considered not fit for export in whole form to Arabian countries. Due to the high quality of most of the crop this year in Guatemala, there was less quantity of seed that had to be decorticated for the non-Arab market,consequently the price has risen far and fast on the decorticated while the high quality Green and Bleached Cardamom market has remained fairly steady and stable. A new crop in early fall should relieve the situation.

Our former pick hit -- Pepper -- is doing well. While Black has given back some ground, largely due to a large Indian crop and lack of buying from cash-poor Russia, White pepper keeps surging onward and the price has risen some 80% from our initial recommendation. Not so our most recent pick of Nutmeg and Mace: these commodities continue to languish in the doldrums of oversupply. A few herbs, like Basil and Marjoram, seem to be hitting bottom and may be good buys this year. Unfortunately these items are perishable, losing quality over time and therefore are not suitable to extended holding periods like some other Spices.

Next time: If White and Black Pepper continue their divergent price paths we will discuss a classic commodity spread situation. Stay tuned to your HerbalGram for this exciting development.

Botanicals: Really no major changes to discuss. The situation in Eastern Europe, source of many botanicals, remains substantially unchanged and so does the supply situation. Many botanicals remain hard to get and some are downright impossible, especially, for some reason, many roots. Those charged with buying these items should definitely be paying attention to these markets.

Potpourri Items: A very competitive situation has developed among Far Eastern exporters of these items, especially in that classic hotbed of competitive pricing, India. Many of the exporters there finally have this market pretty well figured out and are determined to compete, perhaps ruinously, with other sources and with each other. Cutthroat markets like these often lead to tactics which bode ill for quality of supply, so a good knowledge of suppliers is necessary here in order to insure a reliable, quality supply at a reasonable price in a timely fashion. This is not an import market for the casual amateur; the risks of getting burned far exceed the chances of making money (and perhaps this is as it should be); As in our last report, the more esoteric flowers from Europe remain in short supply and are commensurately expensive -- horrendously pricey. As mentioned, last year's growing season in Europe was hot and dry and qualities were not great. Maybe this year will be better -- or worse -- who knows? That's one of the fascinations of these markets.

American Botanical Council.

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By Peter Landes

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