Friday, December 14, 2012

Cardamom - The Spice That Heals

Having spent nearly 20 years in the Middle East, one of the most memorable culinary experiences that pops to mind is the first time I tasted cardamom. I remember being handed this hot, deliciously scented liquid out of a tiny cup without handles and thinking, "What in the world...?" And that was my introduction to Al-Qahwa,
Gulf coffee, which is completely unlike anything else you've ever tasted; light and aromatic, it is made with green coffee beans, which means that they have just been lightly roasted, and plenty of cardamom pods. You can grind these together at home but I always had mine ground fresh at the store and I'd be in olfactory bliss for the entire ride home.  If you've ever tasted Chai, you've likely tasted it cardamom, but I never had so this was an entirely new experience for me.  If you've never tasted it, it can be an acquired, yet exotic, flavor.

Anway, back to the cardamom! Cardamom (sometimes spelled cardamon) refers to several plants of the similar genera Elettaria and Amomum in the ginger family Zingiberaceae. Elettaria pods are light green (these are what goes into Gulf coffee, btw) while Amomum pods are larger and dark brown (and are used more extensively in Biriyani).

It is the world's third most expensive spice by weight, outstripped in price only by saffron and vanilla.  When you buy it, you should definitely buy whole pods and split them yourself.  If you're going to powder it, you can actually grind the entire pod, but for cooking, I always split the pods and pulled out the tiny, slightly sticky seeds inside.  Ground cardamom will quickly loose its vibrant flavor and for me, the seeds add a yummy crunch to most any (Arabic-style) dish.

Aside from the amazing flavor, I recently discovered during my herbal studies that these tiny little seeds pack a whallop in the healing arts department.  Apparently, it has been widely used in folk medicine for the treatment of asthma due to its bronchodilatory effect. Who knew?! Apparently lots of people --  just not me. ;)

Both a stimulant and carminative, cardamom, though not commonly used in western herbalism, forms the base for most Ayurvedic preparations for flatulence and indigestion. The spice is considered to be an excellent aphrodisiac in the Arab world, while Indians use it for treating many conditions such as bronchitis, asthma, kidney stones, anorexia, debility and weakened constitutions (vata).

In traditional medicine, cardamom is broadly used to treat infections pertaining to gums and teeth, and to prevent throat troubles, pulmonary tuberculosis, congestion of lungs, inflammation of eyelids and digestive disorders. It is also used as an antidote for snake and scorpion venom.

In a nutshell, here're some of the

Health benefits of cardamom 

  • This exotic spice contains many chemical compounds that are known to have anti-oxidant, disease preventing, and health promoting properties. 
  • The spicy pods contain many essential volatile oils including pinene, sabinene, myrcene, phellandrene, limonene, 1, 8-cineole, terpinene, p-cymene, terpinolene, linalool, linalyl acetate, terpinen-4-oil, a-terpineol, a-terpineol acetate, citronellol, nerol, geraniol, methyl eugenol, and trans-nerolidol. 
  • The therapeutic properties of cardamom-oil  include being an antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, stomachic, and tonic.
  • Cardamom is a good source of minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Copper is required in the production of red blood cells. 
  • Additionally, cardamom is an excellent source of iron and manganese. Iron is required for red blood cell formation and cellular metabolism. Manganese is a co-factor for the enzyme dismutase, which is a very powerful free radical scavenger. 
  • Further, these aromatic pods are rich in many vital vitamins, including riboflavin, niacin, vitamin-C that are essential for optimum health.
So, really, what's not to like?!

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