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Cardamom nutrition facts

Cardamom is a seed pod, known since centuries for its culinary and medicinal properties. These aromatic spice is native to the evergreen rain forest of southern Indian Kerala state and grown in only a few tropical countries. Botanically, it belongs to the family of "Zingiberaceae" and consists of two genera; Elettaria and Amomum.

Generally, the cardamom plant grows up to 4 meters in length in thick clumps and starts bearing its prized seed pods soon after about two years of plantation. Each pod measures about 1-2 cm in length.

cardamom pod cardamom seeds
Green, dried cardamom pod. Close up view of seeds.

green cardamom pods
Mature, green cardamom pods.

Both Elettaria and Amomum cardamom types feature three-sided fruits (pods) with a thin, yet tough, papery outer cover. Inside, tiny, deep-brown, aromatic seeds arranged in vertical rows with each grain ensheathed again inside a very thin, transperent membrane.

Elettaria pods are small and light green, while amomum pods are larger and dark brown. The pods are being used as a flavoring agent in both food and drink as well as in medicine.

black cardamom
Black cardamom pods. Note for bigger sized dark brown pods.

Black cardamom (Amomum subulatum) also known as Nepal cardamom (bari or kali elaichi in India and Nepal) is a relatively bigger sized pod of same Zingiberaceae family. They have dark brown, rough outer coat, measuring about 2-4 cm in length and 1-2 cm in diameter. The pods possess camphor-like intense flavor and commonly employed in spice-mixtures in sub Himalayan plains of India, Pakistan, Nepal and in China.

Health benefits of cardamom

  • This exotic spice contains many plants derived chemical compounds that are known to have been anti-oxidant, disease preventing and health promoting properties.

  • The spicy pods contain many essential volatile oils that include 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 have been found application in many traditional medicines as antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative, digestive, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, stomachic and tonic.

  • Cardamom is a good source of minerals like potassium, calcium, and magnesium. 100 g pods conatin 1119 mg of this electrolyte. 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, it is also an excellent source of iron and manganese. 100 g pods contain 13.97 mg or 175% of daily-required levels of iron. Iron is required for red blood cell formation and cellular metabolism. Manganese is a co-factor for the enzyme, superoxide dismutase, a very powerful free-radical scavenger.

  • Further, these aromatic pods are rich in many vital vitamins, including riboflavin, niacin, vitamin-C that is essential for optimum health.

Selection and storage

Fresh cardamom pods as well as its powder can be available in the market year around. Both varieties of pods are readily sold in the markets. "Elettaria" pods are small and light green, while 'Amomum" pods are larger and dark brown. Fresh pods should be heavy and give sweet aroma when rubbed with the finger tips. Avoid pods that appear light and that are with surface discoloration or spots, which may feature mold (fungal infection).

Medicinal use

The therapeutic properties of cardamom oil have found application in many traditional medicines as antiseptic and local anesthetic, and antioxidant in addition to play health promoting and disease preventing roles.

Culinary uses

In general, cardamom seeds are one of the most sought-after ingredients in sweet and dessert preparations. The pod is split open to expose its underlying seeds either with fingers or using a small knife. The seeds are then crushed (powdered) using a pestle/mortar or hand-mill just before their addition in cooking. However, whole pods are preferred in savory dishes, which give a further punch to the recipe since their peel too contains significant amounts of valuable essential oils.

Here are some preparation tips:

  • This delicate spice is being used as flavoring agent in both foods, soups and refreshing drinks.

  • The pods have been in use in the preparation of sweet dishes in many Asian countries. Elaichi-pista (cardamom and pistachio) kulfi is a famous summer dessert in India, Pakistan, and Iran. Elaichi kheer is another popular rice pudding with added pistachio, and raisins in these regions.

  • It is used as a flavoring base in the preparation of tea, coffee, and cold beverages.

  • Black cardamom (badi elaichi) is mostly preferred in savory dishes; to prepare rice-pilaf, meat stews, and lentil-curry in many parts of Nepal, India, and Pakistan.

Safety profile

Cardamom pods should be used in small amounts. Too much spices in the food can cause gastrointestinal irritation, and stomach ulcers.(Medical disclaimer).

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Further resources:

1. Spices Board of India -pdf (Link opens in new window).

2. USDA National Nutrient Database.

3. Gernot Katzer's spice pages.

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