Monday, April 22, 2013

Cardamom: The Queen of Spices

Known as "the queen of spices", man's enchantment with these black aromatic seeds with the distinctive sweet flavor dates back several thousand years. Cardamom has long been a favorite among the Arabs, the Scandinavians, the Germans and the Japanese.

Cardamom is the seed of a plant belonging to the Zingiberaceae, or ginger family. 'Elettaria Cardomomum', as it is botanically known, is a perennial crop native to the shady rain forests of India, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. The Ancient Egyptians chewed cardamom seeds to whiten their teeth and the Greeks used it as a perfume. Vikings came upon cardamom about one thousand years ago, in Constantinople, and introduced it into Scandinavia, where it remains popular to this day.

Grown since 3000 BC, Indian cardamom is said to be the best and most expensive of spices, commanding a price next only to that of saffron. The best of Indian cardamom comes from the southern state of Kerala, the most ideal location for cardamom cultivation.

Cardamom Mythology

There are two main types of Cardamom:

Green cardamom

The fat green pods grown in South India are considered to be the best in the world. Green cardamom is available in the pod form or as powder. The whole pod stores better and retains the aroma of the seeds. Many Indian savory dishes and sweets are flavored with cardamom. This fragrant spice is used in rich curries and milk-based preparations. In India, tea and coffee are sometimes spiked with cardamom. Around the world, green cardamom is used in spiced cakes and breads.

Brown cardamom
Brown cardamom pods are larger in size and are hairy. In fact, they look like tiny fibrous coconuts. Brown cardamom is medicinal in flavor. In India, it is used only in savory cooking, especially to flavor rice dishes like biryani. Along with green cardamom, it is an essential ingredient in garam masalas [a blend of mixed spices].

Medicinal Uses 

A stimulant and carminative (flatulence reliever), cardamom is not used in Western medicine for its own properties, but forms a base for medicinal preparations for indigestion and flatulence using other substances. The Arabs attributed aphrodisiac qualities to it (it features regularly in The Arabian Nights) and commonly use its fragrant aroma to flavor coffee. It has been used as a digestive since ancient times. A medicinal cordial can be made by infusing seeds in hot water.

Though it is more popularly added to dishes to provide a strong aroma and flavor, in Ayurveda it is considered to be a very useful and effective medicine. In Ayurvedic texts cardamom is referred to as "ela". 

According to traditional wisdom of Ayurveda, cardamom is effective in improving digestion. It helps those suffering from stomach cramps and is a good stimulant and beneficial for those suffering from flatulence and gas. Cardamom also helps in cleansing the body, as it has detoxifying properties. It improves blood circulation to the lungs and can be helpful in prevention of spasms or convulsions. Hence, in small quantities, it is beneficial for those suffering from asthma or bronchitis. 

Cardamom also enhances appetite and provides relief from acidity in the stomach. It is used in the cure of halitosis and is beneficial for those suffering from various kinds of respiratory allergies. 

Those suffering from nausea or mouth ulcers may also find cardamom to be helpful. It is known to be a good cure for weakness in general. Some practitioners of Ayurevda also advise its use for treating infection of the urinary tract.

Cardamom is said to assist in balancing all three 'doshas' in the human body (vata, pitta and kapha). For this reason,  it is termed as a "tridoshic”. A small quantity of cardamom is especially beneficial in balancing "kapha”, which
governs the structure of the body and protects it.

Add some fragrance to your kitchen and try these aromatic recipes:

Cardamom Mango Lassi (smoothie)

Cardamom Chicken (masala murgh)

Cardamom Coffee Cake

Easy Cardamom Coffee

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