Cardamom Spice (elaichi) is probably my favourite spice and again very old. It has been called 'The Queen of Spices' and 'Grains of Paradise'. The actual seeds are dark brown and live inside pods of which there are two types, green and black, which are not the same plant. (There is also a white variety, but these are simply green pods that have been bleached to be used in white sauces).
They are both members of the ginger family of plants (Zingiberaceae) that produce small triangular pods full of seeds. The pods have to be harvested by hand and this makes cardamom spice relatively expensive - it is worth every penny.
It is native to India, probably originating in the South West where it still grows in the wild. It was known in ancient Egypt where it was used to clean teeth, and to the Greeks and Romans.
The Vikings discovered it over 1000 year ago in Constantinople and it is still used in Scandinavia in cakes and pastries. When I worked in India for a couple of weeks some years ago, I was offered a cup of tea with several pods floating about in it - I loved it. The Turks use it in coffee.
The black variety (badi/moti elaichi) is an important ingredient of garam masala and is otherwise used to give a deep smoky flavour particularly to thick stews. It is not in any way a substitute for green cardamom.
The green variety is most commonly used and has a beautiful, fragrant aroma deriving from its oils which resemble eucalyptus and camphor with hints of pine and lemon (its like a chest rub in a pod).
This makes it a very versatile ingredient which is used as a curry powder ingredient, in sweets, in rice and in pulses.
The outer pod is of little value in cooking, if you grind the pods whole you will find that whilst the outer pod splits apart, it does not grind down and can be removed from the powder. Better is to split the pods with a knife and only use the inner seeds.
Whole pods can be added to rice to make a lovely aromatic rice and they are especially good in daal dishes.
Always buy whole pods - not only does ground cardamom lose its flavour
very quickly, you can never be sure that the powder is pure green cardamom;
cheaper substitutes are often mixed in.
It is low in saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium. It is a good source of Vitamin C, and trace elements such as calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium and zinc, it also contains plenty of dietary fibre.
Cardamom spice has been used as a digestive and a mouth freshener since ancient times and is also credited with relieving stomach aches, sore throats. Drinking it in tea is meant to relieves headaches.
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