Saturday, 3 July 2021

Lesser Cardamom: The Queen of Spices

Capsules of lesser cardamom or chhoti elaichi
(Photograph source: My Village Shop at Amazon India
 

Botanical name: Elettaria cardamomum

English names: Cardamom, Cardamon, Malabar cardamom, Ceylon cardamom, Lesser cardamom

Indian names: Elaichi, Chhoti elaichi (Hindi, Punjabi, Gujrati, Marathi, Urdu), Trutih (Sanskrit), Elatarri (Malayalam), Elam Ancha (Tamil), Elaki (Telugu)

Family: Zingiberaceae

Chromosome No:  2n = 48, 50, 52

Plants bearing capsular fruits on a panicled infructescence arising from the rhizomes
(Photograph courtesy: Sh. Thilak Makkiseril, Kochi, Kerala

Cardamom, also known as the Queen of Spices, is one of the most expensive (after vanilla and saffron) spices in the world. Commercially used parts are fruit and seeds. It is a spice of choice with large number of medicinal and culinary uses. There are two varieties of E. cardamomum i.e. E. cardamomum var. major (wild) and E. cardamomum var. minor (cultivated).

Origin and Distribution

Cardamom is a native to Kerala, Karnataka and the forests of the Western Ghats of Southwestern India. It is widely cultivated in India, Guatemala and Sri Lanka. Now, Guatemala is the largest producer and exporter of cardamom in the world, followed by India.

Plantations of lesser cardamom forming an archway
(Photograph courtesy: Sh. Thilak Makkiseril, Kochi, Kerala

Morphology

Cardamom is a robust perennial herb growing in thick clumps and reaching up to 3 m tall. A large number of erect leafy shoots (composed of the leaf sheaths) arise from the branched rhizomes.  The flowering shoots also arise from the rhizomes, but are decumbent. The leaves are distichous, with sheathing bases and together form the pseudostem. The leaf blade is lanceolate, 25-100 cm × 5-15 cm in size and with acuminate apex. It is dark green and glabrous above and light green and pubescent beneath. The inflorescence is a prostrate panicle, up to 1.2 m long. The flowers are bisexual, zygomorphic, about 4 cm long with tubular and green calyx. The corolla is white with violet streaks, tubular, 3-lobed and forms a labellum. Fruit is a subcylindrical, pale green and trilocular capsule.

Lesser cardamom or chhoti elaichi flower
(Photograph source: Sailesh on Wikipedia) (@ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Flower_CardamomP1030443.JPG)

Chemical Constituents

Cardamom fruits (dry) contain 42 % carbohydrates, 10% proteins, 2% fat, , 20% fibre and 6% ash. The seeds of freshly harvested cardamom may contain up to 11% essential oils.  A number of potentially active ingredients are found in the seeds. The most important of them are terpenes, flavonoids and phenylpropanoids. Major consdtituents are α -terpinyl acetate (24-49%),  1,8-cineole (24-38%), linalool (5-6%), linalyl acetate (1-4%), β-pinene (6.2%), limonene (1-4%), eugenol and quercetin.

Developing fruits/capsules of lesser cardamom
(Photograph courtesy: Sh. Thilak Makkiseril, Kochi, Kerala

A lesser cardamom nursery in Shimoga, Karnataka
(Photograph courtesy: Sh. Rajendra Hindumane, Shimoga, Karnataka


Uses

1.    As Spice: Cardamom is extensively used for flavouring curries, teas and drinks.

2. Medicinal Uses: Many medicinal uses have been reported for cardamom. Cardamom is reported to reduce chronic inflammation and boost antioxidant activity. It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol level and improves the heart health. Cardamom improves the liver function, helps in digestive issues and reduce gut discomfort. It has antibacterial and antifungal activity. However, it may trigger a severe allergic reaction in rare cases.

3.    Mouth Freshener: Cardamom is an excellent mouth freshener.

4.    Flavouring of Eatables: Many eatables are flavoured with cardamom. 

References
Thakur, A.K., Bassi, S.K. and Kango, N. 2018. Economic Botany and Biotechnology. S. Dinesh and Co. Ltd., Jalandhar, Punjab.


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