Friday, 9 January 2009
Cardamom is one of the world’s ancient spices. The ancient Egyptians chewed cardamom seeds as a tooth cleaner; the Greeks and Romans 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.
Cardamom is an expensive spice, second only to saffron. The name cardamom is used for herbs within two genera of the ginger family Zingiberaceae, namely Elettaria and Amomum.
Elettaria, commonly called cardamom, green cardamom or true cardamom, is distributed from India to Malaysia. Elettaria pods are light green in colour. This is the ‘true’ cardamom and the highly priced variety.
Amomum, commonly known as black cardamom, fat cardamom, brown cardamom, Java cardamom, Bengal cardamom or Siamese cardamom is distributed mainly in Asia and Australia. Amomum pods are larger and dark brown.
Both varieties take the form of a small seedpod, triangular in cross-section and spindle-shaped, with a thin papery outer shell and small black seeds.
In Urdu/Hindi/Gujarati and some Southern Indian languages, it is called "elaichi" or "elchi." In Malay, it is called buah pelaga .
Both forms of cardamom are used as flavourings in both food and drink, as cooking spices and as a medicine. Elettaria cardamomum is the most popular variety used in cooking.
Cardamom has a strong, unique taste, with an intensely aromatic fragrance. Black cardamom has a distinctly more astringent aroma, though not bitter, with a coolness similar to mint, though with a different aroma. It is a common ingredient in Indian cooking, and is often used in baking in Nordic countries, such as in the Finnish sweet-bread pulla. It is one of the most expensive spices by weight and little is needed to impart the flavour.
Cardamom is best stored in pod form because once the seeds are exposed or ground they quickly lose their flavour. However, high-quality ground cardamom is often more readily (and cheaply) available and is an acceptable substitute. With all spices, keep in a cool dark place and buy in small quantities.
For recipes requiring whole cardamom pods, a generally accepted equivalent is 10 pods equals 1½ teaspoons of ground cardamom.
In the Middle East, green cardamom powder is used as a spice for sweet dishes as well as traditional flavouring in coffee and tea. In South Asia, green cardamom is often used in traditional Indian sweets and in Masala chai (spiced tea).
Black cardamom is sometimes used in garam masala (a mixture of ground spices) for curries. It is occasionally used as a garnish in basmati rice and other dishes. It is often referred to as fat cardamom due its size ('Moti Elaichi'). Individual seeds are sometimes chewed, in much the same way as chewing-gum. In Northern Europe, cardamom is commonly used in sweet foods, pastries or cakes. It has also been known to be used for gin making.
MEDICINAL QUALITIES OF CARDAMOM
Green cardamom in South Asia is broadly used to treat infections in teeth and gums, to prevent and treat throat troubles, congestion of the lungs and pulmonary tuberculosis, inflammation of eyelids and also digestive disorders. It is also reportedly used as an antidote for both snake and scorpion venom bite. Amomum is used as a spice and as an ingredient in traditional medicine in systems of the traditional Chinese medicine in China, in Ayurveda in India, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.
Species in the genus Amomum are also used in traditional Indian medicine. Among other species, varieties and cultivars, Amomum villosum cultivated in China, Laos and Vietnam is used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat stomach-aches, constipation, dysentery, and other digestion problems. "Tsaoko" cardamom Amomum tsao-ko is cultivated in Yunnan, China and northwest Vietnam, both for medicinal purposes and as a spice. Increased demand since the 1980s, principally from China, for both Amomum villosum and Amomum tsao-ko has provided a key source of income for poor farmers living at higher altitudes in localized areas of China, Laos and Vietnam, people typically isolated from many other markets. Until recently, Nepal has been the world's largest producer of large cardamom. Guatemala has become the world's largest producer and exporter of cardamom, with a staggering export total of US$137.2 million for 2007.