Society

Why cardamom is on a bull run

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Cardamom is on a bull run but are all stakeholders happy?

On June 20, the cardamom market went into a tizzy thanks to a sale at the e-auction centre at Bodinayakanur, nicknamed the cardamom capital of India, at the foothill of the Western Ghats in Theni district, Tamil Nadu. Eight kilos of the evenly green, aromatic 8.5 mm capsule fetched a record ₹ 5000 for a kilo spreading equal amounts of joy and consternation in an otherwise conservative commodities market.

Elite food goes populist:
  • Amalagam Foods Limited ventured into cardamom-flavoured ice-creams in early 2000s but discontinued as the “Indian palate demands very sweet ice creams while cardamom, on its own, has very strong flavour, so two strong elements did not quite work,” says Abraham J Tharakan, group chairman.
  • Marryam H Reshii, who has extensively researched the spices and has written, The Flavour of spice, says, “ green cardamom is one of the few aromatic spices that are cooling to the system and its fragrance is sharp and piercing. A little goes a long way. Unfortunately for gourmets all over the world, there is no substitute.
  • In Kerala, it is used for payasams; in Lucknow for biryanis; in Kashmir in gushtabas and in Scandinavia, in cakes and cookies! So the escalating price of the small green capsule is going to be felt literally all over the globe.”
  • Though used sparingly in fragrances, Bombay-based perfumer Manan Gandhi created, ‘Calicut’, using a cardamom note (as oleoresin). “It gives a spicy green note,” says Manan of the spice that in history is known for its “grateful warmth.”

Though the quantity sold was small, “for effect only,” as many declare, it was a benchmark — the first time ever. Last week both the price and quantity rose substantially to trade 1300 kilos, at ₹6000 a kilo, continuing the bull run.

In an attempt to explain the swift rise in prices, insiders narrate a story that involves failed crops, delayed monsoon, poor stock, and an artificially created dealer’s market, in addition to the growing use of the spice in contemporary cooking.

The prices have risen over a two-year period from ₹900 in 2017 and is currently hovering at an average of ₹3000.

Cardamom’s annual crop cycle is an August to July season with eight pickings. At a time when the first flush of crops are to arrive and prices at an all time high, all eyes are on the spice. The picturesque Cardamom Hills in Idukki district are home to the small cardamom, (the big black cardamom grows in North India) and supplies 80 per cent of the country’s output. With a delayed monsoon this year and a setback due to last year’s floods, the crop is still to recover to capacity. “The shortage has led to a spike in prices,” says Arun Kottoor of Mali Estate in Vandanmettu.

Why cardamom is on a bull run
 

“The crop is 30-40 % less than normal and of late the demand has grown by three per cent annually because of increased consumption of aromatic spices, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and food industry,” says G K Nair, a former beat journalist.

KJ Varkey’s family owns one of the largest cardamom plantations in Kerala, Downton Estate, Pachakanam, near Periyar Tiger Reserve. He says, “Crops fell by 50 % last year. There was severe wind damage.” This year his fingers are crossed as the first flush of pickings are on.

Ironically the dream prices are not making everybody happy. “The trader is definitely happy but how long is the honeymoon going to last is the question,” asks Nair.

    “Whoever has stock is happy but the farmers are not be able to cash in on the bullish market,” says Arun explaining that most planters sold stock as prices rose, never imagining that it would touch such heights.

    Tony Thomas, of PJ Thomas & Co, dealers of cardamom, based in Kumily, in the heart of the cardamom producing region says, “The ₹5000 mark was artificially created and is not a reflection of the actual market. It can be managed. Re-pooling of stock will keep the bubble from bursting.”

    Elite food goes populist: Cardamom’s different uses
    • Amalagam Foods Limited ventured into cardamom-flavoured ice-creams in early 2000s but discontinued as the “Indian palate demands very sweet ice creams while cardamom, on its own, has very strong flavour, so two strong elements did not quite work,” says Abraham J Tharakan, group chairman.
    • Marryam H Reshii, who has extensively researched the spices and has written, The Flavour of spice, says, “ green cardamom is one of the few aromatic spices that are cooling to the system and its fragrance is sharp and piercing. A little goes a long way. Unfortunately for gourmets all over the world, there is no substitute.
    • In Kerala, it is used for payasams; in Lucknow for biryanis; in Kashmir in gushtabas and in Scandinavia, in cakes and cookies! So the escalating price of the small green capsule is going to be felt literally all over the globe.”
    • Though used sparingly in fragrances, Bombay-based perfumer Manan Gandhi created, ‘Calicut’, using a cardamom note (as oleoresin). “It gives a spicy green note,” says Manan of the spice that in history is known for its “grateful warmth.”

    The rise in demand over the years, due to several factors, has added to the recent buoyancy. The Spices Board has been promoting the spice outside the traditional North India and West Asian markets. From 2015 to 2017, the department ran films and videos through PVR and multiplexes, “to encourage the use of the spice.” Besides road shows it launched a set of 40 short films, “video spots” on spices including cardamom, endorsed by celebrities.

    Ironically the spice is used sparingly in cuisine where it is grown and generously in North Indian and West Asian cuisine.

    Its most common and popular use is in cardamom-flavoured tea, or as part of garam masala, a bouquet of spices. “Garam masala, the traditional masala mix, uses a lot of cardamom and should be encouraged to flavour most curries irrespective of where it originates, because of its wellness properties,” says Jose Varkey, Corporate Chef, CGH Earth.

    With intermittent rains and pickings under way the crop is due in a few weeks.

    Hopefully the prices will go hand in hand with a volume that will bring cheer to planters, traders and pickers alike.

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    Printable version | Jan 28, 2020 11:30:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/cardamom-on-a-bull-run/article28367159.ece

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