Before I started reading about cardamom in general and black cardamom in particular (a spice I use a lot and about which I posted some days back) I did not think much of green cardamom in that I never considered seriously that it might have significant benefits of its own to offer. I thought of it as the lesser variety of cardamom, used primarily for its aromatic flavor, in Indian cuisine- in desserts such as gajar ka halwa, kheer and in the boiled tea that is drunk across so many parts of the Indian subcontinent. This spice contributes a very pleasant, almost sweet flavor; and my mother therefore even adds it sometimes to the masala that is the base for vegetable dishes such as baigan ka bharta and palak-aloo or palak-paneer, where the vegetable can often lack natural sweetness and in fact can even on occasion be faintly bitter or coarse to taste.
But it turned out that this green variety of cardamom is thought to offer lots of benefits too, and perhaps this is another reason why it is used so widely.
Green Cardamom (botanical name Elettaria Cardamomum) is the common name for the Elettaria genus of the zingiberaceae(ginger) family of plants. The Sanskrit name is Ela (“elaichi” in hindi) , in Arabic it is called al-hayl , and the Persian name is hel. Grown across South and South East Asia, it is one of the most expensive spices by weight.
Although India is the largest producer of cardamom, only a small share of the Indian production is exported because of the large domestic demand. The main exporting country today of this spice is in fact Guatemala, where cardamom cultivation was introduced less than a century ago and where all the cardamom grown is exported.
It is a common ingredient in baking in north European cuisines, and it is used to flavor coffee and tea in the Middle East. In fact despite its widespread use in South Asia and Iran, 60% of the world production of cardamom is exported to countries in the Middle East and Africa that have people of Arab ethnicity, where apart from its popular use for flavoring coffee it is also added to spice mixtures such as baharat, ras el hanout and berbere.
South East Asian cuisine also uses varieties of cardamom – Siam cardamom and round or Java cardamom – which are related to but distinct from that used in India.
In India’s Ayurvedic system of medicine, this spice is believed to be very effective in the treatment of a range of conditions- most notably congestion, throat ailments , bronchitis, laryngitis, and digestive disorders such as indigestion,heartburn and flatulence, as well as infections of the teeth and gums and skin and urinary complaints.
Apparently cardamom derives its properties from the presence of a powerful phytochemical called cineole in its essential oil.
Laboratory studies on animals have shown extracts from this essential oil to have anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic effects.
Green cardamom, like the black variety, is best stored as pods because the seeds , once exposed to air, lose their flavor quite quickly.