Cardamom

Cardamom is one of the world’s very ancient spices. It is native to the mountainous rain forests of Kerala and Sri Lanka. It is the world’s third most expensive spice, right behind saffron and vanilla.

Cardamom is the fragrant seed of a tropical plant (Elettaria cardamomum). A member of the ginger family, cardamom is It is a herbaceous perennial plant belonging to the ginger family. This bushy herb will grow to a height of 6 to10 feet with erect shoots from a thick, underground rootstock. Cardamom rhizomes from large clumps of growing plants are taken out, separated into small clumps and planted in prepared pits. It thrives best under moderate shade. Cardamom grows abundantly in higher altitudes with a warm humid atmosphere and evenly distributed rainfall. Cardamom plants flower for eight or nine months of the year. Its brownish black seeds are enclosed inside 1/4”-3/4” long oval shaped pods. Each pod, or capsule, ripens slowly and is plucked when three-quarters ripe. Seeds are collected from well ripened fruits from a healthy plant at least five years old.
Today it is cultivated in partially cleared tropical rain forests of south India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Mexico, Guatemala, and Tanzania. India is the world's largest producer of cardamom. Indian cardamom is slightly smaller, but more aromatic.

Indian cardamom is slightly smaller, but more aromatic. The larger variety known as black cardamom is really brown in color, and the smaller variety is called green cardamom. Green pods have excellent fragrance compared to the yellow or white bleached ones. After harvest, the pods are washed and dried. The method of drying dictates the final color. White indicates the pods have been dried for many days in the sun leaving them bleached. Green pods have been dried for one day and night in a heated room. Cardamom is offered commercially in many forms. It is sold as whole pods, seeds, powder, and liquid extract. Cardamom seeds lose their flavor quickly when ground and it is ideal to buy only whole pods and crush them just before using them.

This highly scented spice has a variety of typical uses, depending on the region. Cardamom has a pleasant flavor and aroma, and in India, it is either crushed coarsely or powdered finely and used in tea, cool drinks, and sweets, as well as in vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. In India, cardamom is another spice that is valued for its medicinal properties. It is considered to be a digestive aid; stirring a pinch of cardamom into milk is believed to reduce mucus produced by dairy products. It is also used for the treatment of dental diseases.

Cardamom is another spice that followed the trade routes to the West since ancient times. Vikings came upon cardamom a thousand years ago, in Constantinople, and introduced it into Scandinavia, where it continues to remain popular. Ancient Egyptians chewed cardamom seeds as a tooth cleaner; the Greeks and Romans used it in perfumes. The Near East and Scandinavia consume half the world's cardamom. It is a popular spice in Northern Africa and Eastern Africa. Cardamom flavors coffee in Saudi Arabia, baked goods in Sweden and ground meat in Norway. Cardamom coffee is a symbol of Arab hospitality. In the West cardamom essential oil is used as a food flavoring, in perfumery, and for flavoring liquor. This spice is often combined with cloves and cinnamon in most cuisines.

Some quick and easy ways to incorporate this healthy spice to Western cuisines are – A hint of cardamom enhances the flavor of rice pudding and vanilla milk shake. Cardamom adds a special fragrance to butter cookies and cheese cake. A cardamom-accented brown sugar and walnut topping enhances the Flavor of sweet potato casserole.

AMMINI RAMACHANDRAN