If you’re a fan of fusion cuisine or chai tea, you’ve probably enjoyed the warm, sweet, and spicy flavor of Cardamom, used frequently in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Scandinavian cuisine. While you may have discovered Cardamom more recently, this versatile spice has enhanced the taste and health benefits of meals for over 4,000 years.
Cardamom was so prized by Greek, Roman, and Egyptian civilizations that it was called the Queen of Spices. Over the centuries, it has grown from a luxury item to a globally traded commodity available as pods, seeds, a ground spice, an oil, or an extract.
Today, scientists are working to uncover the secrets of this exotic spice and how it may contribute to your vitality and well-being. Cardamom deserves a prime spot on your spice rack with its enticing flavor and potential health benefits.
Cardamom Through the Ages
The first known references to Cardamom are found in Sanskrit and Sumer texts. Early civilizations like the Babylonians, Assyrians, and ancient Greeks believed Cardamom supported digestive health. They also used it to freshen breath. Cardamom was traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine for the same purposes, as well as to support respiratory health and promote calmness.
The Cardamom trade became substantial in ancient Greece and Rome, where it was considered a luxury import along with other spices, like pepper and cinnamon. The Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi wrote about the spice being imported to Yemen from India and China in the 12th century. Vikings may have discovered Cardamom over 1,000 years ago in the spice bazaars in Constantinople and brought it back to Scandinavia, where today it is used to scent doughs for bread and pastries and add flavor to poaching liquids and drinks.
The Cardamom trade expanded in the 16th century when the Portuguese conquered part of India's west coast. The spice became popular in Europe in the 19th century. Cardamom was brought to Guatemala in 1914 from Sri Lanka; today, Guatemala has surpassed India as the largest global spice supplier. It is the third most expensive spice in the world, after saffron and vanilla.
The Cardamom Plant
Cardamom is a leafy plant that grows up to four meters tall and originated in the tropical forests of southern India. It belongs to the Zingiberaceae family, which includes ginger and turmeric.
Cardamom flowers bloom from the base of the plant and have a tapered triangular shape. But it's the pods that contain the highly-prized seeds. Cardamom pods are green when unripe, then turn yellow or brown as they mature. The pods are harvested just before ripening and dried to prevent the seeds from scattering.
Inside each three-sided pod are dozens of small Cardamom seeds. The seeds have an oily, resinous coating and an intensely aromatic, pungent flavor. While the seeds hold the flavor, the pod helps retain it. Of the plant’s different species, green and black Cardamom are the main varieties used for cooking. Green Cardamom, with a floral and piney aroma, is more popular worldwide. Black Cardamom has a smokier flavor with a slight menthol aroma and is most popular in Pakistan, China, and parts of North India, where it is used in rich meat curries and rice recipes.
4 Health Benefits of Cardamom
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the potential health benefits of Cardamom. Beyond its value in enhancing cuisine, Cardamom contains antioxidants and potent plant compounds that may offer substantial health benefits. Modern research is working to validate what traditional medicine practices have long believed — this aromatic spice can do more than please the taste buds. Cardamom has been shown to:
- Support digestive health: Traditionally used to support digestive health, a few animal studies have shown Cardamom to help relieve indigestion, gas, and bloating. Gastric ulcers are a common chronic digestive disease. One major compound in Cardamom, called 1,8-cineole, has shown particular promise for gastrointestinal problems including ulcers.REF#3163 The extra fiber from Cardamom increases the amount of complex carbohydrates in the body, which may help support gastrointestinal function.
- Provide inflammatory response support: Cardamom contains antioxidants that have been shown to support a normal inflammatory response and help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals.REF#3164 A normal inflammatory response may also provide a protective effect in the stomach.
- Support heart health: Cardamom may help lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and help protect against blood clots. In one study, 20 people newly diagnosed with stage 1 hypertension were given three grams of Cardamom powder daily for 12 weeks. Blood pressure and blood samples were analyzed every four weeks. After 12 weeks, participants had significantly lower systolic, diastolic, and average blood pressure than when they started the trial. Cardamom also increased their fibrinolytic activity, which helps prevent blood clots. Antioxidant status improved by 90% as well.REF#3165
- Support oral health: Cardamom has been used for centuries to provide minty fresh breath.
Cardamom Side Effects
Cardamom is generally safe for most people to consume when used in cooking or baking. Since there are no dosage recommendations for Cardamom supplements in the form of powders or oils, always follow the directions on the supplement label.
Cardamom supplements may interact with certain medications. Talk to your doctor before taking cardamom supplements if you are taking any medications.
Cooking with Cardamom
The sweet yet spicy fragrance of Cardamom can enhance both savory dishes and sweet treats. While most commonly used in Indian, Arabic, and Scandinavian cuisines, Cardamom's versatility gives it a kick to everything from stews and curries to baked goods and beverages.
To bring out Cardamom's flavor, the pods can be crushed or freshly cracked just before adding them to a recipe. Lightly crushing the pods helps release the oils that give Cardamom its potent aroma. Alternatively, the seeds can be ground into a powder for a more concentrated taste.
Cardamom pairs well with ingredients like cinnamon, clove, cumin, and ginger. It complements spicy curries and stews, balancing heat with subtle sweetness. Ground cardamom can be kneaded into dough to create sweet breads. The spice is a great addition to a glass of Iced Golden Milk and also adds intrigue to coffee, chai, and milk-based desserts and drinks.
Start by experimenting with a pinch of ground cardamom or two cracked pods in dishes you typically enjoy. Its unique contribution of woody, citrus, and minty tones may become your new secret ingredient.
Buying and Storing Cardamom
Quality matters when it comes to buying Cardamom. Look for brightly colored, unbleached pods without any dark spots. The pods should feel firm and plump, not crumbly when pressed. Avoid Cardamom seeds that look dry or powdery, as they lose potency quickly.
For ground Cardamom, choose vacuum-packed options over generic spice jars. Check the expiration date and smell the powder. It should have a strong, balmy fragrance. Whole pods will maintain optimal flavor for up to a year when stored properly, while ground Cardamom lasts three to six months.
With its volatile essential oils, Cardamom loses its signature flavor and aroma rapidly when exposed to air and light. To preserve its taste, keep Cardamom in sealed containers away from sunlight and humidity. If stored in the refrigerator or freezer, place the pods or powder in an airtight plastic bag first to prevent absorption of other scents and flavors. For daily use, keep a small amount of Cardamom in a tightly capped spice jar, away from heat sources like the stove.
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- 3. , "Blood pressure lowering, fibrinolysis enhancing and antioxidant activities of cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)", Indian Journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics. 3 3. , "Blood pressure lowering, fibrinolysis enhancing and antioxidant activities of cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum)", Indian Journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics.