Up until the 19th century, most of the world was supplied with cardamom from the area where it originated: tropical parts of India, Nepal, and South Asia. This spice has been traded in those regions for over a thousand years, but today, it’s grown commercially in areas like Guatemala, New Guinea, and Vietnam, which indicates the type of climate it requires.
From the Zingiberaceae family of plants, cardamom comes in a small, greenish pod and has a strong, unique, spicy-sweet or camphor-like flavor. There are many colors of this outside pod, and, depending on the region, two main types: the small elettaria variety, aka green or true cardamom, and the larger amomum, a black, white, or red variety.
Whichever type you use, you’ll get the most intense flavor if you break open whole pods to release the tiny black seeds. These can be ground using a mortar and pestle or spice mill, but a little goes a long way. Ten cardamom pods for instance, containing around 20 seeds each, net only 1½ ground teaspoons.
It may seem surprising that cardamom is the third-most expensive spice in the world, since it’s virtually unheard of in much of the U.S. Why would this spice be such a desirable commodity?
Cardamom is used in both spicy-hot ground masala and milder curry blends, especially in East Indian cultures. Cardamom tea is as famous as the ginger varieties in India. In some Middle Eastern cultures, a strong cardamom-based coffee called “gahwa” is served daily and considered a necessity when demonstrating hospitality.
In areas of the Western world, cardamom is an essential sausage ingredient, and adds a singular flavor to Scandinavian pastries. The essence is also appreciated in the fragrance market, but perhaps more importantly, Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines hold cardamom in high esteem.
Health Benefits of Cardamom
In ancient medical traditions, cardamom could cure a sore throat, teeth and gum infections, congestion, tuberculosis, stomach, kidney, and lung problems, and also be used as an antidote for spider and snake bites. It’s been long noted, and more recently in lab studies, to successfully treat urinary tract infections – even gonorrhea.
For centuries, cardamom has been touted as having aphrodisiac properties with the ability to cure impotency. In clinics using East Indian medicine practices, five grains of cardamom chewed three times a day is prescribed as a way to kill harmful H. pylori bacteria that causes intestinal infections and chronic pain.
In both early and modern medicine, cardamom is believed to have mood-elevating properties, so it’s used both as an antidepressant and in aromatherapy. It’s said to relieve problems with muscle spasms, and according to studies at the Central Food Technological Research Institute in India, contains several blood clot-preventing components. Studies show that the many layers of phytonutrients in cardamom even offer cancer protection and improved blood circulation, which is heart protective.
Nutritionally, no other vitamin or mineral ingredient in cardamom comes close to the manganese content, which is 80 percent of the recommended value in a single tablespoon. You’ll also find smaller amounts of fiber and iron, as well as plenty of vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, potassium, pyridoxine, riboflavin, thiamine, vitamin A, and zinc.
Volatile oils in this spice are also important, limonene being the most prominent, as well as pinene, sabinene, myrcene, phellandrene, terpinene, terpinolene, linalool, terpinen-4-oil, a-terpineol, a-terpineol acetate, citronellol, nerol, geraniol, and methyl eugenol. Studies show that these oils are the main reason for its effectiveness in treating gastrointestinal disorders.
Cardamom Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 1 tbsp, 0.2 ounce (6 grams), ground
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Studies Done on Cardamom
Cardamom powder was tested on 20 newly diagnosed individuals with primary stage 1 hypertension to discover its effect on cardiovascular risk factors. Each subject was given three grams of cardamom powder for 12 weeks. Blood pressure was taken initially, and at four-week intervals for three months. Results showed cardamom powder to significantly decrease systolic, diastolic, and mean blood pressure and significantly increase fibrinolytic (blood clot-inhibiting) activity. Total antioxidant status also increased by 90 percent at the end of three months, without any side effects.1
Noted as having the ability to improve digestion, stimulate the metabolism, and inhibit tumor growth, cardamom was examined for other properties in another study. Researchers found it to increase the activity of glutathione, glutathione reductase, superoxide dismutase, and catalase levels, leading scientists to suggest its potential as a pivotal chemopreventive agent to prevent papillomagenesis on the skin,2 among other positive uses.
Studies were also done on a number of spices to discover their phenolics and antioxidant properties. Cardamom was found to contain high flavonoid levels and significantly enhance antioxidant enzyme activities, as well as inhibit colon cancer cell growth and proliferation. Eugenol content in cardamom also was found to significantly inhibit tobacco-induced mutagenicity, among other health-positive results.3
Cardamom Healthy Recipes:
Cardamom Honey Chicken
|4 Tbsp. honey
||2 Tbsp. sherry or orange juice
||1 tsp. freshly ground cardamom seeds
||1 tsp. ground peppercorns
|6 chicken breasts
||3 Tbsp. coconut oil
||1 lemon, thinly sliced
||Salt and pepper
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Warm the honey to make it easier to combine with the sherry, ground cardamom, and peppercorns. Use this to marinade the chicken in a large bowl. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil in a large frying pan at medium high heat.
- Sear the chicken, skin side down, until golden.
- Place the lemon slices in a roasting pan and lay the chicken pieces on top. Brush with the marinade and season generously with salt and pepper.
- Bake until done - about 20 minutes for breasts or longer for thighs, wings, and drumsticks. Remove from oven and allow to rest for about 10 minutes before serving.
- Pour drippings from the pan to make gravy. Serve over rice, mashed potatoes, or couscous.
Cardamom Fun Facts
Cardamom is mentioned in 4th century BC Sanskrit texts around the same time a few varieties of the spice, called amomon and kardamomon, were being imported into Greece. In the 11th century, cardamom was included in the list of ingredients for India’s “five-fragrance betel chew” in the Manasollasa or Book of Splendour. Recipes for cardamom-infused sherbets and rice dishes were used in the court of the Sultan of Mandu from about 1500 AD.
Evidence shows cardamom to be one of the healthiest herbs on the planet. Studies have shown it to be cancer preventive and heart protective, and can improve blood circulation and kill harmful H. pylori bacteria. It’s been used to treat dental diseases, urinary tract infections, ease gastrointestinal disorders, and cure gonorrhea and impotency.
As a spice, cardamom is extremely versatile, and is used all over the world in coffee, sausage, and in savory meat and fish recipes. You can buy it already ground, but the entire pod, opened to release the tiny black seeds inside for fresh grinding, offers the most intense, spicy-sweet, and completely unique flavor.