After my family moved from India to Bahrain, in the Persian Gulf, I discovered gahwa, the fragrant Arabic cardamom coffee, and loved nothing better than sipping it along with a square of cardamom-spiced baklava. It was Arab traders who first carried cardamom from India to Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, and today the Arab countries still consume more of it than any other place on earth. It's still a precious commodity, too—nearly as costly as saffron and vanilla because, like them, it must be harvested by hand—and when I was a teenager, in our house as well as at our neighbors', serving cardamom to guests was understood as a gesture of respect. Often, that would mean producing an extravagantly spiced biryani made with nutty-tasting basmati rice, quite possibly the best vehicle for cardamom ever discovered. Sometimes, after a big meal, we'd follow my grandmother's custom and pass around cardamom pods to chew. In the ayurvedic system, cardamom is as much medicine as it is food; the same aromatic compounds that give the spice its flavor and warming properties also aid digestion.