Food

Cardamom: the small wonder

Cardamom  

One definition of ananda, a deep sense of well-being, could definitely be to hold a little earthern kulhar of elaichi chai in your cupped hands on a wintry day. The very aroma of the brew will lift you to seventh heaven and, as the warm and warming liquid travels down your throat, you will feel soothed. In a way, there is nothing magical to this experience because elaichi, known as yellaka in Tamil, is both warming and a mood enhancer according to Ayurveda. This ingredient also tones the lungs, thus helping conditions such as lung congestion, asthma and bronchitis.

Belonging to the same family as ginger and turmeric, elaichi comes in two forms: the small, green variety (the third most expensive spice after saffron and vanilla), and the larger brown variety. Today, this native of South India and Sri Lanka is widely cultivated in Guatemala where it was introduced by a German coffee planter.

This ancient spice was known in Greece, Egypt and China. Egyptians made cardamom-scented wax which they used to light and perfume spaces. While Chinese healers used it for various purposes including as a diuretic and to control incontinence, Greek healers used it during childbirth. According to Ayurveda, cardamom is beneficial for many digestive problems ranging from dyspepsia, flatulence, stomach colic and bloating to intestinal parasites and diarrhoea. Its anti-microbial and anti-fungal properties help to regulate intestinal flora. It has the capacity to dissolve fats and starch while also soothing gastric acidity. Given its aroma it naturally controls halitosis (bad breath); this is no doubt why it is offered after meals as a mouth freshener.

The essential oils in cardamom make for its especial aroma, and contribute to its anti-spasmodic action as well as its mind balancing and toning effects. It is believed that, in cases of extreme fatigue, a massage with cardamom essential oil restores vigour. The cineole in cardamom acts as an expectorant, thus helping bronchial health.

The essential oils are also anti-inflammatory and analgesic. They inhibit swelling in the mucus membrane, mouth and throat, ensuring the health of that region. However, as with everything in life, moderation in usage is recommended since an excessive consumption could lead to various side effects such as insomnia, dryness of the mouth and excessive perspiration.

As a culinary ingredient, cardamom is very versatile: they are used both in savoury and sweet dishes. Many stew and curries call for the usage of cardamom. Those who want a subtle flavour can just slightly open the pods before dunking them in the oil; if a more intense flavour is favoured, then crush the cardamoms, skin and all, with a rolling pin. When making a sweet dish like kheer or payasam, you can release the aroma of the cardamom by lightly rolling it with a little sugar before adding to the preparation.

Various teas and infusions can be made using cardamom. Our elaichi chai is a great beverage, being both invigorating and soothing. Given its powerful effect on several digestion related organs, it would not be a bad idea to have a cardamom infused green tea post meal as it dissolves fat and prevents acidity.

For bronchial health, powder some badam, elaichi and misri and have a teaspoon of this mixture in the morning and in the evening. To inhibit mucus, boil cardamom in milk, adding some turmeric and a pinch of pepper to the decoction; this is usually taken at night. In some parts of Africa, cardamom is added to coffee as it tones down the effect of caffeine while adding a certain complexity to the taste.

We see therefore, through its culinary geography, that elaichi, our very own superfood, has indeed travelled to spread its comfort. To make sure you purchase the best quality, open up a couple of pods to check if the seeds within them are plump and dark brown. When they are not fresh, the seeds shrivel up and become slightly greyish. Do spice up your food and beverages with this little pod of which we can truly say small is beautiful.


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Printable version | Jul 21, 2021 4:08:55 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/Food/cardamom-the-small-wonder/article6488853.ece

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