For those of you who still haven’t heard of this wonderful spice, cardamom is that awesome and intriguing flavor most associated with Indian and Oriental sweets, but which can also be found in plenty of savory dishes as well. You’ve surely had it at least once in an Indian take-away box or in your chai latte drink from your favorite coffee shop. Sometimes also spelled cardamom (though most of the world prefers the cardamom name), this spice is made of the ground seeds of several plants, mainly from the family of Zingiberaceae (a family of plants which also gave us ginger). The most common types are green cardamom and black (or dark brown) cardamom; culinary experts around the globe usually prefer using the green variety for the more intense and floral-toned flavor that accompanies it. Black cardamom is slightly more smoky (but not bitter), with a subtle mint-like refreshing tone.
Traditionally found in India, cardamom is produced by countries such as Guatemala (which began planting it sometime before World War I) and, more recently, Sri Lanka as well. Mixed with boiling water and sugar, it produces a flavor-infused syrup which is absolutely irresistible to dunk Indian and Turkish sweets in (you can also try it with fritters or any kind, or to be poured over baklava cakes or cheesecakes). The world surely loves it, considering that today, cardamom is the third most expensive spice on the global market, right after saffron and vanilla. But beyond its pleasant taste qualities, you should also know that the health benefits of cardamom make it a spice everyone should use if they get the chance, so don’t hesitate and try it as soon as possible. Not only will you have made your drink or food richer and perfumed, but you will have also given your body plenty of powerful substances to help it fight a whole number of dangers to its well-being. Here’s what you need to know.
Common Uses of Cardamom
Most commonly and without any effort, cardamom can be simply added to your cup of coffee or tea while the drink is still hot (provided you use ground cardamom). This kind of drink is known as an Arabic coffee (some coffee retailers sometimes even sell their ground coffee already mixed with cardamom – it sure smells divine) or as Kashmiri chai (when you add the spice to your sweetened tea, with a bit of milk as well). If the prospect of cooking anything scares you, then this is the surest-fire way to add plenty of cardamom to your diet without much fuss.
Other easy ways to consume cardamom is to use the whole seeds whenever you boil milk for rice puddings or oat puddings (just as you would add a whole vanilla bean to the liquid), or to add half a teaspoon of the ground spice to any hearty stew which contains a spicy red or brown sauce. Almost any kind of meat and vegetables would benefit from the flavor of cardamom, making both your meal more interesting and your body fortified.
Beyond its traditional use in Indian sweet and savory foods and in Arabic coffee, cardamom has also been traditionally used in the baking of Nordic (Scandinavian) countries, particularly in Sweden and Finland where it wouldn’t be Christmas without some cardamom-spiced cream puffs or braided sweet breads. Another traditional use for cardamom is in the making of most Thai curry pastes (including the green and red types you can find in your medium-sized supermarkets and up), in making gin, or even in extracting color from it to be used afterwards as a fabric dye (in some parts of India and South Asia).
Health Benefits of Cardamom
As for the health benefits of cardamom, these range from the immediate and cosmetic to the deeply fortifying, long-term kind of effects. Here is a list of these benefits you too can enjoy:
- Cardamom is a breath refresher – Traditionally used as a breath refresher in India and China, the spice was even included in a special flavor blend launched by Wrigley’s a while back, named Eclipse Breeze Exotic Mint, advertised to be able to fight even the most persistent bad breath odors.
- Cardamom has mild antiseptic properties for teeth and gums – Again in Asian folk medicine, cardamom has been used for hundreds of years for alleviating the symptoms of tooth and gum infections. Simply ingesting a daily drink with at least half a teaspoon of ground cardamom added is enough to access the antiseptic properties of this wonder spice.
- Cardamom can aid with a sore throat, lung problems, the common cold and coughs – Basically, whenever you feel that you’re coming down with something and it’s affecting your breathing, you can count on the same wonderful antiseptic and decongesting properties of cardamom to alleviate your discomfort. It has been known to work even against tuberculosis, in its initial stages at least. Warm drinks spiced with cardamom and at least one session of inhaling their steam should do the trick.
- Cardamom is effective in stimulating and normalizing digestion – Regularly eating cardamom in your food or simply adding it to your tea whenever you suffer from a particular digestive problem has proven to be effective against any of the following: stomach pain and general stomach problems, heartburn, constipation, dysentery, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), intestinal gas and for the loss of appetite. Children are particularly susceptible to the effect of appetite revival if stimulated with a bit of cardamom, so that’s probably great news for the parents of picky eaters.
- Cardamom is also a diuretic, so it detoxifies and stimulates kidney function and relieves urinary tract infections – If you feel any problems in that area, just drink plenty of liquids and spice them generously with cardamom; then, just wait for your body to do the rest of the work. The more cardamom-infused liquid will pass through your system, the better you will feel.
- Cardamom can also treat mild inflammations such as pink eye or mild cases of joint pain. If you ingest it regularly, the anti-septic properties of the spice should do their job from inside the body and reduce the overall inflammation in your system.
- Cardamom can be effective in treating and preventing liver stones and gall bladder stones – Its urinary tract and digestive system stimulating properties, along with its mild anti-inflammatory properties make it an ideal adjuvant in the treatment of liver and bladder stones. Chinese traditional medicine boasts of successfully using cardamom for these problems for hundreds of years.
- Cardamom lowers cholesterol and prevents coronary heart disease – The detoxifying and diuretic effects of the cardamom also help this spice become a blessing to your bloodstream and thus to your heart, which will deal with less cholesterol and will be able to function easier as a consequence. It is also known to prevent the formation of blood clots and to help fluidize the blood.
- Cardamom has anti-oxidant and cancer-prevention properties – Last, but not least, cardamom also has wonderful anti-oxidant properties, which makes it a powerful ally in fighting skin ageing and the overall ageing of the body, as well as degenerative diseases and tumors. It also prevents cancer and many other similar diseases.
Dosage and Precautions
If you’re wondering about the best way in which you can achieve all the wonderful health benefits of cardamom, listed above, then you’re probably also wondering about the dosage. We’ve already stated that cardamom can be simply added to drinks and food to obtain its benefits, but since many of its properties are derived from its essential oils (which can go up to 8% of the total spice weight, provided you bought the quality stuff), there is the danger of over-dosage as well. Essential oils can be both highly beneficial to the human body and dangerous as well once a certain threshold is exceeded. The limit varies from plant to plant, and the only known side effect of cardamom is the triggering of gall bladder spasms (and pain) when a suffering person eats too much of the spice. Also, if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, perhaps you should talk to your doctor or naturopath before engaging in any serious cardamom-based diet plan, to make sure you don’t allow the spice to interfere with the baby’s well-being. But other than these two specific cases, everyone should be cleared to benefit from the qualities of this delicious spice.
Since there aren’t yet any precise scientific measurements regarding the ideal dose of cardamom to be used when treating the various illnesses it can treat, we would recommend anyone interested in using this spice to not go over the regular food content dosage one could normally find in a typical traditional diet from India or Asia. That means you can add ½ of a teaspoon in a drink or a serving of food, and you shouldn’t have more than three such servings a day. Overall, at the end of the day, if you try to keep the total amount of ingested spice to 1 and ½ teaspoons of ground spice, all should be pretty far from any dangerous amount, and the wonderful health benefits of cardamom will work their magic.
Image source: Commodity Online.