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The Jewel of Indian Spices – Cardamom!

Written by Peter Allen on . Posted in food

The queen of eastern spices, Cardamom spice, finds its place in many world cuisines, especially South Asian ones. First the world acknowledged its strong flavor and then, owing to its profound health benefits, it became a kitchen cabinet staple.

Cardamom is known for its distinct aroma, which you can smell from miles away if it is cooking. While traveling in India and other countries of the same region, you get to experience the fine cardamom taste everywhere, whether it is rice Biryani or Qorma curry, adding cardamom to each recipe has become a norm in those places. Even in some varieties of tea cooked there, the milk is boiled with cardamom pods.

The natives claim cardamom as something that can induce aroma and freshness to all beverages. Coming back home from those places made me use the cardamom spice more often than usual. Maybe that is because my taste buds were craving for its unique taste. Now I use it in different ways, often in the powder form or the cardamom seeds or the pods on the whole.

Since cardamom is not a native spice, I thought of writing a detailed account of this much-valued spice. While getting to know the cardamom better, we will see how it is great for the health, which recipes can assure its best use, what different types of cardamom we can use, and how to differentiate them from one another. The plan is ready to execute, so don’t stop scrolling and stay with me as we step into the spice world.

What is Cardamom?

I will not try to sound very scientific here. In simple terms cardamom is a spice which is obtained from the pods of a specific plant family. We will discuss the plant later in detail, right now let’s just concentrate on the seeds.

The cardamom seeds are packed inside a small pod. It is said that all the aroma and the taste of the cardamom is in the seeds and inside the pod. The pod shell is tasteless. When the pod is split opened, those seeds can be removed and used separately. For a strong cardamom taste, the pods are added in their open state. Whereas for just a mild touch the whole pod is added to the food.

The seed colors remain the same inside the pod, that is usually smokey black in color. But the pod differs in their color, and that is how you can differentiate between different varieties of the cardamom. The pod’s outer shell is quite soft, and it automatically splits into two parts when cooked for quite some time.

All the cardamom producing plants are more naturally found in the South Asia region, especially India and Indonesia since it requires a tropical or subtropical environment to grow a cardamom plant. But the production has been seen in new places like Guatemala, Tanzania, and Malaysia.

Before World war I, cardamom pods and seeds were largely imported from South Asia into North and South America. By the year 2000, Guatemala became the largest cardamom producer in the region as the production of cardamom exploded. In most parts of the world, cardamom is termed as one truly expensive spice. In fact, it is named as world’s third most expensive spice. In some regions, its price even surpasses the price of saffron and vanilla.

Defining the Cardamom Taste!

Well, you cannot put every cardamom into a single box of taste and aroma. Each variety differs significantly, yet the common feature of all is that they have a very intense aromatic and unique taste with somewhat resinous odor. The black cardamom has this smokey flavor and aroma with a mild coolness like a mint. It does not taste bitter though.

Let’s move on to the taste of another commonly used cardamom—the green cardamom. Due to its quite unique taste, this variety is the most expensive one. Its taste is so strong that even a few seeds or a single pod can infuse great flavor. The intense fragrance of this cardamom does not allow you to store the seeds without the pod. However, its seeds can be kept in a powder form also.

All About the Cardamom Plant

The naturally suitable habitat for cardamom plant is warm, tropical and sub-tropical. The plant is commonly called Amomum cardamom and it is largely grown in Kerala, India and is exported to other countries. Both fresh and dried pods are traded.

The plants for green and black cardamom are different and grow in slightly different environments. The green varieties can be cultivated in Sri Lanka and India. Whereas the black cardamom plants are grown in Nepal and Himalayan regions of India. You can identify the cardamom plants by aromatic, erect leaves. The stems are 2 to 4 inches in length. The flowers on these plants are white in color with yellow and red stripes.

The question is, can you grow the plant in your kitchen garden?

The answer is affirmative! If the conditions are conducive and you live in an area with the optimal temperature then you can. The plant can be grown with cardamom seeds in a phosphorous rich soil away from direct sunlight. Remember that the cardamom plant needs a huge amount of water, because of its rainforest and tropical origin. A humid climate and proper care can grow the seeds into a healthy fruit-bearing plant.

Perfect Recipes with Cardamom

There are several different ways to add cardamom to your meal. Considering its amazing benefits, the greater the use, the better it will be for you. If you are not yet familiar with the taste of this super-rich Indian spice then here is your chance to start with some basic recipes:

  • Spice Tea:

Nothing can be more soothing than a nicely cooked cup of tea on a tiresome day. This spiced tea is even more relaxing as it contains the extract of several nutritional spices including the great cardamom. You will know the importance of this tea, once you will get to the part where I share all the health benefits of cardamom.

Other than cardamom, it needs cinnamon sticks, ginger, milk, and black tea leaves. First, you boil ginger and cinnamon in water and cook until it is reduced or takes a dark brown color. Now add black tea leaves and boil again. Milk is added at this point, and then you finally add cardamom and maple syrup. The mixture is cooked again to a boil and then the tea is strained for serving.

This tea appeals to every one with its distinct cardamom aroma, and that’s what makes it extra special.

  • Whole Spice rice:

Steaming white boiled rice is served in every world cuisine. Sometimes it is simply boiled whereas at other times to add some refreshing flavors extra ingredients are added, to make parsley lemon rice, cumin rice, etc. Similarly, you can cook whole spice rice to have an aromatic culinary experience.

Ths rice is best to serve with South Asian Curries or different stews. You simply saute cardamom, bay leaf, and peppercorn in some oil first, then pour in water along with some salt to cook the rice. Once the water is boiled, rice is added and cooked until al dente. Fluff rice with a fork and serve with any curry.

  • Crème Fraiche Dip:

Here is just a basic idea of how to add this spice to a refreshing dip. To make the dip, you can not use the cardamom pods as a whole, but it needs cardamom powder if you can find that at the store. Otherwise, you grind the seeds yourself after removing them from the pod. Mix the powdered seeds with crème Fraiche and granulated sugar. Serve it with strawberry slices on top and enjoy the intense yet refreshing cardamom crème Fraiche.

  • Cardamom Cake:

There is a specific cake to be made out of cardamom, you can add its taste to any cake or bread for that matter. Simply drizzle a teaspoon or less of cardamom powder to the cake batter, and mix it well.

The cardamom’s sweet and aromatic taste suits well for almond cake, so I would recommend using it in that recipe. Citrus cakes or cream cheesecakes are not suitable for cardamom flavors. How strong you like the taste of it will decide the amount used. I never use much, as cardamom powder is already so concentrated in taste.

  • Poached Fruits:

Poached fruits taste so heavenly and can be served as a sweet and refreshing dessert. With cardamom, I have tried poached pears, and that was my best experience. Both the syrup and the pear were complementing each other.

First mix cardamom, with wine, sugar, lemon juice, saffron, and salt in a cooking pan. Make sure that the cardamom pods are opened slightly. Once the mixture is heated to a simmer, add pears in it and let cook for 30 minutes. This time is enough to infuse the spice’s flavor into the fruit. Enjoy as a lovely dessert. Pour some sugar syrup on top for a shiny glaze.

  • Pudding:

For strongly flavored breakfast pudding cardamom pods or a teaspoon of its powder are great additions. Tapioca pudding, in particular, tastes great when it is cooked or served with spices like cardamom or cinnamon.

What I usually do is I boil the milk used for the pudding with some cardamom pods and then strain this milk. This way, the essence of the cardamom gets into the pudding. Seeds can later be used for garnishing if desired. Green cardamom is commonly used for various Indian desserts

Types of Cardamom

Up till now all we’ve talked about is the cardamom generally. Well, its time to unveil all the different categories of this spice. It gets interesting when you learn that each variety of cardamom can serve an entirely different culinary purpose. You cannot possibly use green cardamom when the recipe says to use a black one, and vice versa.

Let’s take a look and find out about each of the variety and differences among them. There are five edible types of cardamom, and those are:

  1. Green cardamom
  2. Cardamom seed
  3. Black cardamom
  4. Ground cardamom
  5. White cardamom

Green Cardamom: The green cardamom has a green colored outer pod. This is the type of this spice which is mostly added to South Asian cuisine, especially the Indian and Pakistan dishes. The color of the pod is green because it is picked before the age of maturity and then the pods are instantly sun-dried to preserve the green color and make it even brighter.

Since green cardamom are not easily found in western parts of the world, or they can be really expensive if available, there are few recipes which recommend the use of cardamom. In India however, this spice is an everyday ingredient. People add it to their food or use it as a topping. The pod size of the green cardamom is also comparatively small, as it is not mature enough.

White Cardamom: The white cardamom is found commonly in Europe and North America. The mature green cardamom is bleached into white cardamom. Sulfur dioxide is used for the bleaching process.

The bleaching process somehow withers away the strong flavor of the green cardamom, and it also takes away the strong fragrance. Still, the white cardamom has a distinct pungent aroma with a flowery taste close to Eucalyptus flavor. It is used in several desserts, or in baking. It is also good for confections, sauces, and batter. The interesting thing about the white cardamom is that it’s a great Aphrosidiac.

Cardamom Seed: There is yet another form of cardamom which is used commonly everywhere. Seeds are obtained from the pod by splitting the pod into half. Cardamom seeds can infuse the strongest taste and aroma. Even a few seeds of cardamom are enough to make it packed with taste and smell. The seeds are therefore considered more economical.

These seeds can either be directly used during cooking or if you just want to infuse the flavor pack these seeds in a spice bag and place it in the cooking mixture. Or simply use the seeds for garnish. How you make the best use out of these seeds depends completely on you.

Ground Cardamom: When you finely grind the cardamom seeds, it gives you the very intense and strong flavors of ground cardamom. This form of the spice is most suitable for baking purposes. This is great for those of you who don’t like to chew the pod or seeds in your food. A little powder can give a nice flavor without unwanted texture. It is also great to add to smoothies or other beverages.

It gives the food an instant flavor without much cooking. It is also suitable for longer storage. In a clean, dry sealable jar, the cardamom grounds can be stored for as many as 2 to 3 months.

Grinding the entire pod to get the powder is probably not a good idea as the pod shell will grind into an insoluble husk which does not look good when you want a smooth batter or beverage. Concentrate on grinding the seeds only, and it will give you the best taste. Try the powder as all sorts of cardamom seasoning.

Black Cardamom: Black cardamom is known by many names. It is called the winged cardamom, brown cardamom, Indian, Nepal, Bengal or greater cardamom. Perhaps every place gives it a different name. It is quite bigger in size than the green cardamom, that is why it’s sometimes known as greater cardamom.

It has dark brown color yet is known as black cardamom to differentiate it easily from the rest. Unlike green or white varieties, the black cardamom has a harder pod, and is tightly packed. It is used for its strong smokey and camphor-like flavor. In India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, this spice is commonly added to rice recipes for good flavor. It is not however used for the desserts.

Its smoky taste comes from the open flame drying it is subjected to. So you can also call it dried cardamom. The greater cardamom finds a place in meat stews and several rich curries. Keep in mind that even though it is a type of cardamom, it cannot ever replace the taste and aroma of green cardamom and hence it should never be used as a substitute.

15 Health Benefits of Cardamom

Who knew a single spice could be so valuable for health? This native Indian spice was initially used as nothing but a basic cooking ingredient. But ever since research has been conducted on its wide-scale health benefits, cardamom has made its way into the medical books. In Ayurvedic medicines, its pods, seeds, and powder are used in making medicines to treat depression, mouth ulcers, and even digestive problems.

There are not as many culinary uses of this spice as there are medicinal uses. That’s how miraculous this spice is. Whether you are suffering from a certain disease or are a perfectly healthy person, adding cardamom to your diet on a regular basis can not only treat the problem but also prevent it effectively. Here are some of the known benefits of cardamom which I believe should be known by all.

  1. Improved Digestion: In curing and preventing digestive disorders, cardamom works as effectively as ginger. Any feeling of nausea, gas, heartburn, constipation, acidity, bloating, etc. can be treated with two to three pods of cardamom. For gas, I prefer drinking green tea with cardamom. For nausea simply keep 1 or 2 pods in your mouth. Add the cardamom powder to beverages to stop acidity, heartburn and bloating.
  1. Detoxification: This magical spice has the tendency to eliminate all the toxic waste out of the body. It simply aids the body’s natural process of detoxification by creating a conducive environment for such metabolic processes.
  1. Halitosis/ Fresh Breath:  In Pakistan and India, people count on cardamom more than they count on their mouthwash for fresh breath. Anyone having a problem with bad breath is advised to take some pods twice a day or after every meal. This way, any food particle left between the teeth doesn’t produce a foul smell. In fact, the teeth get cleaned and become bright white in appearance.
  1. Diuretic: A diuretic substance is one that can make the body produce more urine in order to release harmful waste, salt, toxins, pathogens, and excess water. Cardamom with its detoxifying properties acts as a natural diuretic and instantly cleans out the kidneys, bladder, and urinary tract. It prevents a build-up of toxic waste in the body.
  1. Fights Depression: This little spice is also a great antidepressant. The direct relationship between the two still has yet to be found, but personal experiences and early research has shown that people taking cardamom regularly do not suffer from constant depression or anxiety. In Ayurvedic treatments, all experts prescribe patients to take cardamom in their tea to fight the depression.
  1. Enhanced Oral Health: It is so good for oral health that cardamom can even heal and cure mouth ulcers and other sorts of infection. Even when the infection reaches the throat, eating or drinking cardamom in beverages can treat all such problems. The antiseptic and antibacterial properties of cardamom make it a perfect healer.
  1. Treats Cold and Flu: Cardamom has yet another benefit. I can even back this claim from personal experience. It gives instant relief to all symptoms of cold and flu. It is great to treat coughs and bronchitis. However, it is advised to visit the doctor in extreme cases.
  1. Cancer: Cardamom shows promising results in the treatment of cancer. It has a natural property of inhibiting the growth of any tumor or cancerous cells. Cancer patients should use this spice regularly. It will also help them to fight other problems they face during intense radio and chemo treatment.
  1. Controls Blood Pressure: Since cardamom is an organic diuretic and it can maintain the fluid balance in the body, it is also effective in maintaining blood pressure. It can unclog blocked arteries, and release excess salts and water to keep blood pressure normal.
  1. Prevents Blood Clots: Its anti-clogging property serves best in preventing blood clots in the blood vessels. People with cardiovascular disorders should add this spice to their meals. Cardamom simply prevents platelet accumulation inside the vessels to prevent clotting.
  1. Antioxidant: Cardamom is so full of vitamins, essential oils, and phytonutrients. Most of all it has several antioxidants that fight against aging cells, tumor cells, and cancerous cells and removes all the free radicals from the body.
  1. Anti Pathogenic: That’s right, the essential oils present in cardamom can prevent and obstruct the growth of fungus, mold, bacteria, and viruses in many parts of the body. Its regular intake can create an active resistance against all these pathogens.
  1. Anti-inflammatory: Another great property of cardamom which makes it my favorite is that is also anti-inflammatory. It belongs to the group of turmeric and ginger in this regard. It can relieve pain, reduce swelling, especially in the throat, as well as mucous membranes in the mouth.
  2.  Stop Hiccups: Cardamom can even relieve the hiccups. It has antispasmodic properties, and it stops the muscle spasms that cause hiccups. It can also relax intestinal and stomach cramps.
  1. Aphrodisiac: Traditional medicine has termed cardamom as a powerful aphrodisiac, and it can prove to be a great stimulant.

Conclusion

At least now you will never have a second thought about this magical, exotic spice. In fact, you should now be on your way to trying some cardamom for yourself. Trust me! Ever since I have started using it in my routine diet, most of my health problems have been resolved. I have seen people maintain blood pressure and depression just by using powdered cardamom or cardamom tea.

Once you get familiar with the taste, you can try it more creative ways to suit your dietary routine. Enjoy!

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Peter Allen

Peter Allen

Peter's path through the culinary world has taken a number of unexpected turns. After starting out as a waiter at the age of 16, he was inspired to go to culinary school and learn the tricks of the trade. As he delved deeper, however, his career took a sudden turn when a family friend needed someone to help manage his business. Peter now scratches his culinary itch on the internet by blogging, sharing recipes, and socializing with food enthusiasts worldwide.

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