Most people are familiar with cardamom from fragrant Indian dishes, but this flavorful spice does more than lend flavor to curries and chai. It also has numerous health benefits, such as improving digestion and stimulating the metabolism. Readily available in markets, the precious pods are relatively pricey, as each one must be handpicked.
An Ancient & Versatile Spice
Elletaria cardamomum from the Zingiberaceae (ginger) family hails from India, and is mentioned in Vedic texts and in Ayurvedic medicine. Ancient Greek, Roman, Egyptian and Arab cultures were equally fond of the spice, which was considered to have aphrodisiac qualities and was used in love potions; the Arabian Nights makes frequent reference to it. Besides being a catalyst for romance, cardamom also has numerous other health benefits, which stem from high amounts of volatile oils such as borneol, camphor, eucalyptol, limonene and terpinine, among others.
Sweet and Savory
Cardamom isn't just healthy, it's tasty, too. Also known a cardamon, Grains Of Paradise, Ela (in Sanskrit) and elachi orelaichi (in India), this versatile spice works equally well in pungent or sweet dishes, similar to the way cinnamon is used. The seeds can be ground into powder, or you can use whole pods (they often have the seeds removed). For the most flavor, crack them a bit before cooking.
Try cardamom to flavor rice pudding, cakes, ginger fig chutney or crème brûlée. In India, cardamom is one of the spices used to make Garam Masala and thus tastes great in savory recipes like tandoori or vindaloo chicken, as well as vegetable dishes like saag paneer. It also works well in herbal infusions and health tonics, chai lattes and even coffee. Try it Middle Eastern style: sprinkle some cardamom powder in your java and add some whipped cream. It is even used prominently in many Scandinavian foods like glogg, yule cake or aebleskivers.