What Is Cardamom?
Cardamom (also spelled as cardamum or cardomon) is a spice that is made from the seeds of several plants within the Zingiberaceae family, which consist of aromatic perennial plants such as ginger.
The seedpods of the plant consist of three separate chambers that each contains a single pungent, highly aromatic seed – cardamom. (Source)
History of cardamom
Cardamom usage both for culinary and medicinal purposes dates back over 4,000 years, and it is generally considered as one of the oldest known spices in the world.
The Ancient Egyptians used cardamom for a variety of medical remedies, as well as for sacred rituals and embalming the dead. There are also records of cardamom being used to maintain fresh breath and clean teeth.
Historically, cardamom has been used as a traditional medicine to treat conditions such as digestive issues, halitosis (bad breath), and respiratory illnesses such as asthma.
The Romans and Greeks also used the strongly-scented spice as a complimentary note to aromatic oils and perfumes, and by the early 19th century British colonialists had established cardamom plantations across the Southern Indian region, the plant’s native environment. (Source)
Varieties of cardamom
There are two types of plants that yield cardamom. The most common type is Elettaria, from which green cardamom (also known as true cardamom) is harvested. The Elettaria plant has papery, thinly-skinned pods that are full of tiny dark colored seeds.
The second, less common type of plant is Amomum, from which black cardamom is harvested. Cardamom from Amomum is also known as Java cardamom, kravan, brown cardamom, Siamese cardamom or Bengal cardamom).
The Amomum plant produces a single large, dark, thick-skinned, rough pod that is full of tiny black seeds. Brown cardamom tends to have a more smoky odor than green cardamom, and some claim it has a more powerful minty taste.
Cardamom comes in two forms, ground or whole pods. As the spice tends to lose both aroma and flavor once it is ground, it is preferable to purchase whole pods or grind them yourself shortly before using them. (Source)
Cardamom is a spice that is rich in nutrients, minerals, and vitamins. 100 grams of cardamom is worth 300 calories, and contains 68 grams of carbohydrates, 28 grams of dietary fiber, and 11 grams of protein.
Cardamom contains vitamin A and vitamin C, as well as an abundance of minerals such as iron, magnesium, manganese, copper, potassium, calcium, zinc, and phosphorus. (Source)
Copper and iron are both used by the body to produce red blood cells, and deficiencies in either of these minerals can lead to lack of energy or even a form of anemia. That same 100 grams of cardamom contains 175 percent of your daily value of iron!
Cardamom pods also contain a wide range plant-based chemical compounds that have antioxidant properties, helpful for reducing toxins in the body. (Source)
Cardamom has a rich medicinal history, having been used historically to treat upset stomachs, freshen breath and reduce the symptoms of respiratory illnesses.
Cardamom and dental hygiene
In India, cardamom pods are commonly used as a natural alternative to processed chewing gums and mints for keeping breath fresh.
Aside from the pods’ ability to keep breath smelling fresh and teeth clean, a study revealed that gum flavored with cardamom reduced symptoms of nicotine withdrawal in smokers. (Source)
Cardamom can also contribute towards preventing bad breath entirely as it contains antiseptic compounds that kill bacteria responsible for bad breath. These same compounds may also slow the process of tooth decay and reduce your likelihood of getting cavities.
Cardamom is also an ideal replacement for processed chewing gums and mints because it does not contain sugar and is entirely free of chemicals.
Cardamom and cancer
Studies examining the effects of cardamom on animals with cancer have concluded that the spice may have serious potential as a cancer treatment.
The study found a dramatic reduction in the occurrence as well as the size of tumors in animals with skin cancer when they were administered daily doses of cardamom powder.
Cardamom and digestive issues
There is a reason cardamom was used as a remedy for digestive issues – in terms of assisting progression of the stages of digestion, cardamom ranks highly in comparison to other spices.
Cardamom and diabetes
Cardamom’s high concentration of manganese makes it beneficial for individuals suffering from diseases that deplete manganese, such as diabetes.
Diabetics who increase their manganese levels also tend to reduce their LDL cholesterol levels (also known as “bad” cholesterol). (Source)
Finally, cardamom may be beneficial for promoting weight loss. A study set out to monitor the effects of cardamom powder on obese rats eating a high-fat diet.
The results revealed that the rats who received cardamom powder doses had improved liver fibrosis, reduced oxidative stress and weighed less than rats who were not given cardamom. (Source)
Is Cardamom Paleo-Friendly?
The Paleolithic diet (or Paleo diet) is founded on one basic principle: if human beings living in the Paleolithic era did not have access to a certain type of food or drink, you shouldn’t consume it.
The average human being during the Paleolithic period was lean, athletic, muscular and versatile – in the ideal physical condition to hunt and gather in order to be able to eat.
The concept of the Paleo diet is that a variety of foods that only became available after the agricultural revolution are not healthy for our bodies, and eating these foods leads to obesity, stress, and general poor health.
The Paleo diet is about eating foods that are rich in nutrients and benefit the body rather than restricting meals to certain times of day or limiting daily calorie intake.
Foods that are allowed on the Paleo diet include grass-fed meats, poultry, fish and seafood, vegetables, eggs, oils, and tubers. Fruit, nuts and seeds may be eaten in moderation, as all three can be high in calories if eaten to excess.
All grain-based products are eliminated on the Paleo diet, which include popular food items such as bread, pasta, rice, oats, and more. Dairy, sugary drinks and foods, any processed foods and alcohol are also off the table.
Most individuals over-consume grain-based foods in particular, which are primarily composed of carbohydrates that our bodies then convert into sugar. (Source)
As cardamom originates from a plant and is a spice, it is an acceptable (and flavorful) addition to Paleo meals and drinks. (Source)
Is Cardamom Keto-Friendly?
The ketogenic diet – also known as the keto diet, low-carb diet, or low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet – is a diet that eliminates food items high in carbohydrates to prompt the body into a state of ketosis.
Ketosis is a metabolic state the body enters into when food sources are low. The liver begins to produce ketones, a result of fat being broken down.
Rather than unhealthily restricting calories, the ketogenic diet starves the body only of carbohydrates while simultaneously consuming high amounts of healthy fats.
Many individuals consume foods that are high in carbohydrates on a regular basis. When something high in carbohydrates is consumed, the body produces glucose and insulin, which are then transferred into energy sources or fuel for your body to function.
The downside of this process is that the body ends up storing fat as it is not required as an energy source. When the body is in a state of ketosis, it begins to burn fat as there is no other alternative (i.e. high amounts of glucose).
On a keto diet, all grain-based products are prohibited as almost all of them are high in carbohydrates. Sugar (both natural sweeteners like honey and processed sugars), fruit, and tubers are also not permitted.
Meats, fish and seafood, vegetables that grow above ground, high-fat dairy products, avocados, berries, nuts, seeds, and other fats such as coconut oil are the basis of a keto diet – all nutritionally rich foods that are contain little to no carbohydrates. (Source)
Spices like cardamom are a healthful addition to the ketogenic diet as long as they are used within moderation, as certain spices do contain carbohydrates. (Source)
Is Cardamom AIP-Friendly?
The Autoimmune System Protocol Diet (or the AIP diet) is a diet that is used to treat the symptoms of autoimmune system diseases.
Autoimmune system diseases include any condition that result the body’s immune system attacks and damages the body rather than protecting it. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and psoriasis.
The AIP diet aims to treat flare-ups of inflammation by eliminating foods that are considered irritants to the gut, operating on the understanding that when gut mucosa are irritated the body is more likely to suffer disruptive symptoms from the autoimmune system attacking.
Through eating nutritionally rich foods that are thought to be able to heal gut mucosa, the AIP diet aims to prevent autoimmune system attacks, reduce symptoms, and reduce the risk of contracting a secondary autoimmune disease.
The AIP diet is highly restrictive, and requires cutting out a variety of food groups and types. These foods may be re-introduced at your discretion after a period of 6-8 weeks, but cautiously so as to ensure the food is not an irritant to gut mucosa.
All grain-based products, eggs, dairy products, legumes, processed foods, processed sugars; nightshade vegetables (i.e. potatoes and tomatoes), ghee, butter, and alcoholic beverages are prohibited. Coconut, oil and avocado are the only types of oils permitted.
The AIP diet advocates consumption of meat, vegetables, fruit (in moderation), fermented foods, non-seed teas and herbs, bone broths, and vinegars. Natural sweeteners such as honey and maple syrup may be had in small quantities. (Source)
As cardamom is considered the fruit of the plants it originates from, it is best avoided in the initial phase of the diet. It may be gradually re-introduced along with other potential irritating food items over time. (Source)
How To Use Cardamom
Cardamom is a versatile spice that is used in beverages, foods, and even on its own (to freshen breath) across the world, and is an especially common addition to Middle Eastern and Indian dishes.
Cardamom has a distinctive, strong smell and is immediately recognizable for its powerful sweet and spicy flavor – a little quantity of cardamom goes a long way.
As mentioned earlier, cardamom tends to lose a lot of its flavor once the pods are crushed. It is preferable to crush the pods with a pestle and mortar right before using the spice in whatever meal or beverage you’re preparing to keep as much flavor as possible.
The entire cardamom pod or pods can also be added to a dish to enhance taste, and the shells may be removed prior to serving.
Cardamom may be used to enhance anything from snacks to teas and even cocktails.
Cardamom compliments most meats and fishes, with a variety of recipes available for dishes such as curries, fried fishes, vegetable couscous, stews and more.
As the spice has a flavor that is often called “warming” or “warm”, it is a popular ingredient to add to Christmas puddings and desserts, such as spiced Christmas cakes and lemon and cardamom cookies.
Cardamom can add a pleasant kick to any beverage, both non-alcoholic and alcoholic. Throughout India and the Middle East, it is used to flavor teas (i.e. green tea, black tea, etc).
One mildly crushed cardamom pod may be added to a large-sized teapot and allowed to sit with your preferred tea of choice.
Cardamom can also be added to fruit and vegetable smoothies for a unique flavor, or to alcoholic beverages such as cider and mulled wine. (Source)
Cardamom spice mixes
Cardamom may also be used to supplement cooking ingredients. For example, one cardamom pod may be crushed and mixed with a single teaspoon of sugar to form an interesting base for cake and cookie batters.
Cardamom is adaptable and can enhance the taste and quality of staple savory dishes and sauces without being overwhelmingly sweet – it may be added to a classic tomato sauce, or to a baked chicken dish.
Depending on the recipe you use, some may recommend using a certain type of cardamom – either green or black – due to green cardamom usually possessing a more delicate, subtle flavor than its black counterpart. (Source)
If you find yourself short of cardamom or unwilling to pay a high price to acquire some – it is one of the most expensive spices in the word – there are some substitutes that will will result in the same flavor.
Cinnamon can be mixed in equal parts with ginger to replicate cardamom’s unique taste. If ginger is unavailable, you may also mix it with ground cloves or nutmeg for the same result. (Source)
Cardamom’s nutritional and health benefits are abundant, and its intriguing flavor and aroma adds a distinctive zest to any dish or beverage it is added to, whether savory or sweet!
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