Elettaria cardamomum Maton.
Family : Zingiberaceae
Other names : Small cardamom;
lesser cardamom; true cardamom; Malabar cardamom; green cardamom
Description Cardamom, the
'queen of spices', is a rich spice culled from the seeds of a perennial plant, Elettaria
cardamomum. It is one of the highly prized spices of the world.
It is believed that the original home of this precious spice is
the mountains of the South- Western parts of the Indian Peninsula.
As early as the 4th century BC cardamom was used in India as a medicinal
herb and was an article of Greek and Roman trade.
Cardamom is a native of Western Ghats
in South India. India had a virtual monopoly of cardamom till recently.
But now it is being cultivated in Guatemala, SriLanka, Thailand,
Laos, Vietnam, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Tanzania. Cardamom cultivation
in India is confined to three states, viz. Kerala, Karnataka and
Cardamom is a perennial
bushy herb. The tuberous underground rhizome is its real stem and
the aerial shoot is a pseudostem and formed by the encircling leaf
sheaths. The leaves are distichous, long, alternate and lanceolate
acuminate in shape. Flowers are borne on panicles and they emerge
directly from the underground stem on long floral stalks. They are
hermaphrodite and zygomorphic. The corolla is tubular, 3-lobed,
pale green, androecium with petalloid labellum white in colour with
pink or purplish veins, composed of three modified stamens with
an undulated edge. There are two further rudimentary staminodes
and one functional stamen. The fruit are tri-locular, ovoid or oblong,
greenish-brown capsules containing about 15-20 seeds attached to
axile placenta. Light reddish or dark reddish brown seeds are irregularily
3-sided, transversely wrinkled or furrowed and are covered by a
Cardamom grows abundantly in altitudes
ranging from 900 to 1370 m above sea level, with a warm humid atmosphere,
evenly distributed rainfall and humus-rich loamy soil. It thrives
best under moderate shade. Cardamom is propagated both vegetatively
and by seeds. Seeds from well ripened fruits are sown in raised
beds and when the seedlings attain a height of 25-30 cm they are
transplanted into field or secondary nursery beds. Vegetative propagation
is by means of clones, a portion of the rhizome with one or two
new tillers. Micropropagation is also widely employed for the propagation
of cardamom. Planting is normally done in June-July with the receipt
of south-west monsoon rains in pits or trenches at a spacing varying
from 0.9 to 3.0 m depending on the type of cardamom.
The maiden crop in cardamom is obtained
in the third year of planting. Flowering commences in April-May
and continues till July-August. Harvesting is done at an interval
of 30-40 days and only fruits which are just nearing ripeness are
harvested. Harvested fruits are dried by exposing them to sun light
or by heating or by flue curing. The dried capsules are cleaned,
sorted and graded based on bulk density, colour and size. Capsules
which lack uniform green colour are bleached by using bleaching
powder, sulphur dioxide or hydrogen peroxide.
The chemical composition of cardamom
varies considerably with variety, region and age of the product.
The principal quality of determinant is the content and compositon
of the volatile oil. Cardamom contains between 2% and 10% essential
oil, out of which the major portion is in seeds. The volatile oil
contains about 25-40% cineole, 30-40% a-terpinyl acetate and about
Aroma and flavour
The cardamom seeds have a warm, slightly
pungent and highly aromatic flavour. They are popular seasoning
in Oriental dishes, particularly curries and in Scandinavian pasteries.
In Middle East countries it is used mostly in the preparation of
'Gahwa', a strong cardamom-coffee concoction.
Medicinal and other use
The cardamom oil is a precious ingredient
in food preparations, perfumery, health foods, medicine and beverages.
A good portion is consumed for chewing or as a masticatory item.
In medicine, it is used as powerful aromatic, stimulant, carminative,
stomachic and diuretic, but rarely used alone. It also checks nausea
and vomiting, helps in combating digestive ailments. Herbal lores
on this spice suggest it can be used to freshen your breath and
support smooth digestion.