Have you ever been in an Indian restaurants and been served a plate of rice with little pods or seeds in it, that gives the dish a wonderful smell and taste?. Cardamom is a common ingredient found often with fennel seeds and fenugreek seeds in many Indian dishes.
Traditional Ayurvedic medicine recognise the balancing effect of Cardamom on all three Doshas: therefore, Cardamom is tridoschic in nature with a sweet and pungent taste.
Cardamom Health Benefits:
The unique flavour of cardamom derives from its 20+ volatile oils and among them cineole is the super-healthy-star. Cineole is the most medicinally active antioxidant that gives Cardamom special features for its intestinal and respiratory soothing effects, so let' s dive in and take a closer look of what researchers found about Cardamom.
The volatile oils in Cardamom are powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic agents that synergistically improve digestion: this spice is an incredible stomach soother.
- Calming the gut: A study by a team of researchers in Saudi Arabia showed that volatile oils in Cardamom may calm the gut by blocking receptors in cells that regulate muscle contractions. Also, a team of Indian researchers discovered that cardamom acted like Cholinergic drug. This type of drug stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for salivation, digestion, and muscle relaxation. The same group of researchers discovered also that cardamom acted like calcium Antagonist drugs which relax muscles too, by regulating the movement of calcium in and out of muscle cells.
- Bad breath aid: Cineole is an antiseptic that kills bacteria that can cause bad breath. Cardamom is "Mother-nature's toothbrush" that clean the teeth and freshens the breath and is one of the few substances that help dissipate “garlic breath” after eating a heavily spiced meal.
- Stopping Ulcers: many studies show cineole can slow or stop the development of aspirin-induced and alcohol-induced stomach ulcers in laboratory animals.
Several studies also show that Cardamom protect our heart and circulation by:
- Lowering blood pressure: In a study reported in The Journal of Ethnopharmacology, cardamom lowered blood pressure in laboratory animals – the greater the dose, the greater the drop. The same study showed cardamom worked like a diuretic, a type of drug use to treat hypertension.
- Prevents blood clots: some heart complications are often caused by blood clots that block an artery. Indian researchers tested cardamom extract on human platelets (the structure in the blood that stick together and form clots_ and they found the spice decreased platelet aggregation (the platelet’s ability to adhere to one another to create a clot).
Cardamom doesn’t offer the calming benefits for the gut only, rather this feature expands to the respiratory tract also offering relief and help for people affected by respiratory ills.
- Ease severe asthma: German researcher studied 32 people with severe asthma who were dependent on anti-inflammatory steroid drugs, dividing them into two groups: one group supplemented with cineole extract and the other didn’t. After two months the supplement group reduced their need for steroids by 36%, compared to the 7% for the non-cineole group. The researchers concluded in Respiratory Medicine that long-term therapy with cineole has a significant steroid-saving effect in steroid-dependent asthma.
- Sinus infection relief: Two German studies have found that cineole offer relief for sinus infections, by decreasing headaches, sinus pain, nasal secretions and obstruction , and eased tender sinuses. The researchers concluded in the Laryngoscope that timely treatment with cineole is effective and safe and they recommended those with an acute sinus infection take a supplement of the spice extract before trying antibiotics.
How to Buy, Store, Process and Cook with Cardamom
India is the mainland of Cardamom; the Romans loved the spice and imported it in vast quantities and the Vikings introduced it to Scandinavia, where it is now as popular as in the Middle East and South Asia.
Today, Cardamom is notorious in the cooking of India, Iran, Morocco, and the Arab nations; In Germany it is used especially for Christmas sweets.
The best quality pods are small, oval shaped with a paper-like husk and a lime-green colour. Look for pods with a vivid, even colour and avoid bleached (white), or pale Cardamom, or pods that have a split open at the corners which indicate that they were harvested late, therefore they have lost some of their volatile oils.
If you can’t find the pods, buy the seeds rather than the powder and grind the quantity you need as you go. Green Cardamom seeds are actually brown in colour and they should feel slightly oily to the touch; the scent resemble eucalyptus, with hints of mint and pepper.
Cardamom pods will last for about two years if kept in an air-tight container, away from sunlight, whereas the seeds will last a year under the same conditions; the powder has a shelf life of about six months.
Cardamom is very versatile and can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes. The whole pods are best used in savoury dishes based in liquids: for example you can drop a few cardamom pods in your rice at the start of cooking. They are particularly suitable for Indian/Asian dishes as it mixes well with other spices and herbs, but due to its mellow flavour goes well with every dish really.
Ground Cardamom is best used for sweet dishes, and due to its strong pungent taste use sparingly: You can mix three pods, or use just their seeds in your favourite smoothie, protein shake, mousse, or dessert recipes. Cardamom is lovely in spice-based drinks such as Turmeric Latte and Chai Masala, or enjoy a simple, but delicious Cardamom tea!.
You probably are craving some lovely cardamom by now, and good news is that although it is one of the most expensive spices out there it is affordable and widely available in our favourite health food stores or local supermarkets (buy organic to avoid irradiated cardamom).
Now go and enjoy your "comfort" meal or drink with this warming, sweet and pungent spice.
Aggarwal, B. and Yost, D. (2011). Healing spices. New York: Sterling Pub. Co.