Cardamom is an Indian spice which is currently used all across the world for preparing tasty food. Called the queen of spices, it is also one of the most expensive spices in the world.
Cardamom in India are of two varieties, Malabar cardamom and Mysore cardamom. In Kerala, cardamom is widely cultivated in the high altitude regions. It has demand all over the world and has several medicinal and industrial applications. Now let’s know why cardamom is a high-valued spice.
Originated on the western ghats of southern India, it is one of the ancient spices used by humans. Ancient Egyptians used cardamom seeds as a tooth cleaner. For Greeks and Romans, it was a perfume. Vikings made cardamom in Scandinavia, where it is still widely used as a culinary spice. Cardamom is also one of the most expensive spices. Quality cardamom can be cultivated in specific climatic conditions and geographical regions. Also, the cultivation is highly labour intensive and requires good investment for storing the spice without losing its freshness. So, it is the most expensive spice, second only to saffron.
Where does cardamom grow?
Cardamom is grown in the tropical and subtropical regions of Asia. Now it is mainly cultivated in India, Guatemala, Malaysia and Tanzania. Currently, Guatemala is the largest producer of cardamom, followed by India, which was the largest producer of cardamom till 2000. In India, cardamom is produced in Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Cardamom in India is cultivated on small plots within the forests. After clearing the land, cardamom plants are planted and left there for a couple of years. In the third year, the ground is weeded again around May-June and a light crop could be obtained by September-November. Then in the fourth year, weeding is done again. Cardamom could be obtained from these plants for three or four more years. The planning season in Malabar is a little late than Mysore. It is observed that the plants that grow above 2,000 ft from the sea level than those grow in lower altitudes.
What identifies high-quality green cardamom?
Quality cardamom can be of light or dark green colour and the size can be between 5mm and 8+mm. Sometimes, artificial green colour is added to make it appear fresh. So in order to check if green cardamom is of high quality you must rub cardamom pods between your fingers. If the green colour is not released, it means you have good quality green cardamom. The price of cardamom is determined by the size of the pods. If the pod is bigger, the number of seeds would be more and they would most probably be dark black seeds. So more oil can be extracted from such cardamom and it would be having a richer aroma.
What is the main uses for cardamom?
Cardamom is an unavoidable ingredient in many Indian dishes and is also commonly used in Near and Far East cuisines. The spice is popular in the West also and is used in making Dutch ‘windmill’ biscuits and Scandinavian-style cakes and pastries. Because of its intense and slightly sweet flavour, cardamom is often compared to mint. It is also used in the making of some kinds of liquor and also for flavouring Arab and Turkish coffee.
Cardamom has antioxidant and diuretic properties and is also rich in compounds that fight inflammation. The chemicals contained in cardamom are effective in treating intestinal spasms and can kill some types of bacteria as well as reduce swelling and strengthen the immune system. Cardamom is used for treating conditions like fatty liver, diabetes and high cholesterol.
Cardamom has many industrial and commercial applications also, as it is widely used as a culinary spice and also in soaps, creams and perfumes.
Isn’t it interesting to learn more about this unique spice? If you get a chance, please visit a cardamom plantation to learn how it is produced. Also keep enjoying the ‘elaichi’ flavour!