Have you ever tasted cardamom? Maybe you enjoyed it in a dish like garam masala or in a cardamom bread. Often referred to as the “queen of spices,” cardamom, or elaichi, is one of the most common spices seen in Indian households, and it’s loved and used all around the world.
The seeds have a warm, highly aromatic flavor that add a unique, sweet, floral flavor to any food or drink. This spice is also widely used as a digestive aid and natural breath freshener. In fact, men and women in India commonly chew the pods to improve breath.
What are the health benefits of cardamom? For starters, it’s rich in powerful phytonutrients. It is especially high in manganese, a trace mineral that helps the body form connective tissue, bones and sex hormones. It’s also crucial for normal nerve and brain function and plays a role in carbohydrate metabolism, fat metabolism, calcium absorption and blood sugar regulation.
That’s not all. There are many cardamom uses you can start trying today to take advantage of this medicinal spice.
What Is Cardamom?
Cardamom refers to herbs within the Elettaria (green) and Amomum (black) genera of the ginger (Zingiberaceae) family. It is native to the moist forests of southern India. The fruit can be collected from wild plants, but most is cultivated in India, Sri Lanka and Guatemala.
By the early 21st century, Guatemala became the largest producer of this spice in the world, with an average annual production between 25,000 and 29,000 tons. The cardamom plant was introduced there in 1914 by Oscar Majus Kloeffer, a German coffee planter. India was formerly the largest producer, but since 2000 the country has become the second largest producer worldwide.
It’s a popular ingredient in South Asian dishes, especially curries, and in Scandinavian pastries. Sometimes the name is used for other similar spices of the ginger family (Amomum, Aframomum, Alpinia) that are utilized in African and Asian cuisines or for commercial adulterants of true cardamoms.
What is the flavor of cardamom? It has a unique flavor that is often described as a mix of citrusy, warm and floral. What does cardamom smell like? It has a scent that is a complex mix of nutty, spicy, citrusy and sweet.
Cardamom essential oil occurs in the cells underlying the epidermis of the cardamom seed coat. The cardamom oil content of a seed varies from 2 percent to 10 percent with its principal components being cineole and α-terpinyl acetate. The oil is used to flavor pharmaceuticals and also as fragrance in perfumes, soaps, detergents and other body care products.
There are three types: green, Madagascar and black cardamom. Most recipes call for green cardamom. It generally has a strong, slightly sweet and floral flavor.
Cardamom pods or capsules ripen slowly and must be picked when they are three-quarters of the way ripe. After harvesting, the pods are then washed and dried. The method of drying dictates the final color. The three cardamom seeds inside each pod are considered the cardamom spice.
A high-quality cardamom can be an expensive spice to buy, similar to true cinnamon and vanilla, but it’s so potent that typically only a teaspoon or less is needed in recipes — so it will last a while. Why is cardamom so expensive? It’s a pricey spice because it needs to be harvested by hand, which is quite labor-intensive.
Whole vs. Ground
You can buy and use cardamom spice in its pre-ground form. You can also buy the whole pods, remove the seeds and grind the seeds yourself. Some recipes may actually call for using the whole pod (keeping the seeds intact) to infuse the spice into a recipe. Once you’re done making a recipe, you remove the pod.
Pre-ground cardamom is not as flavorful as the whole pods or freshly ground seeds, but it is the easier option. Whole pods or freshly ground seeds have more of the essential oils.
One tablespoon of ground cardamom contains about:
- 18 calories
- 4 grams carbohydrates
- 0.6 gram protein
- 0.4 gram fat
- 1.6 grams fiber
- 1.6 milligrams manganese (80 percent DV)
- 0.8 milligrams iron (4.4 percent DV)
- 13 milligrams magnesium (3.3 percent DV)
- 0.4 milligrams zinc (2.7 percent DV)
- 22 milligrams calcium (2.2 percent DV)
- 65 milligrams potassium (1.9 percent DV)
- 10 milligrams phosphorus (1 percent DV)
This spice may naturally help many common and serious health concerns. Here are some of the top potential cardamom health benefits:
1. Improves Bad Breath
Cardamom is a very effective remedy against a common problem known as halitosis, aka bad breath. Simply chewing on the seeds can help eliminate any bad odors coming from your mouth. Some chewing gums even include it as an ingredient for this very reason.
Recently, a study conducted by the Department of Microbiology at Kurukshetra University in India explored the antimicrobial effects of cardamom extracts on oral bacteria. Researchers concluded that the extracts are effective against oral pathogenic bacteria like Streptococcus mutans and Candida albicans.
Additionally, the major active component of cardamom oil, cineole, is a potent antiseptic known for killing the bacteria causing bad breath and other infections. If you’re looking for how to get rid of bad breath, look no further.
2. Helps Treat Cavities
Not only can this spice kill the bacteria that causes bad breath, but it might also help prevent cavity development on your teeth or even possibly reverse cavities and tooth decay. It has all the cleansing benefits of a chewing gum but without any of the negatives (like stickiness).
Not only can it kill bacteria in your mouth, but with its somewhat sharp yet pleasant flavor, chewing cardamom can also encourage a cleansing saliva flow while the fibrous outer coating of the pod can provide a mechanical cleaning of your teeth.
3. May Aid Cancer Treatment
This healing herb even shows promise when it comes to cancer, exhibiting potential as a natural cancer treatment. Animal studies have shown that it can be used as a chemopreventive agent or something that’s used to inhibit, delay or reverse cancer formation.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food showed that it had a positive effect on skin health in animals. Researchers found that there was a significant reduction in the occurrence and number of tumors with oral administration of cardamom powder. The study concludes that cardamom has potential as a chemopreventive agent against two-stage skin cancer.
In general, phytochemicals found in this spice, including cineole and limonene, have shown an ability to take on a protective role against cancer progression.
4. Lowers Blood Pressure
Cardamom might be able to help you lower your blood pressure. This is key to maintaining the health of your heart and kidneys.
A study conducted by the Indigenous Drug Research Center at RNT Medical College’s Department of Medicine in India and published in the Indian Journal of Biochemistry & Biophysics evaluated 20 newly diagnosed individuals with primary stage 1 hypertension and the effect of giving them three grams of cardamom powder daily in two divided doses for 12 weeks.
The results showed that not only did cardamom help decrease systolic, diastolic and mean blood pressure, but it also increased total antioxidant status by 90 percent at the end of three months.
5. Helps Treat Diabetes
The high manganese content in this spice makes it an excellent choice for diabetics and anyone struggling with blood sugar issues. Research indicates that individuals diagnosed with diabetes have low blood levels of the trace mineral manganese.
It’s unclear if having diabetes causes levels to drop or if low levels of manganese contribute to developing diabetes. Either way, adding manganese to the diet is a smart idea for diabetics, which is why you should use this spice as part of your diabetic diet plan.
A clinical study found that diabetics who had greater manganese blood levels were more protected from “bad” LDL cholesterol than those with lower levels of manganese. All this together shows that this spice may be effective at combatting the onset of diabetes.
6. Supports the Digestive System
Cardamom is a traditional remedy in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurvedic medicine for the treatment of digestive issues like stomach aches, but there is also science to back this common usage.
An animal model study published in 2014 looked at the effects of hot water extracts of cardamom pods, turmeric and sembung leaf on gastric ulcers induced by aspirin on animal subjects. Throughout the study, animals were given the herbal mixture or another substance believed to be a protective agent followed by aspirin or they were just given aspirin.
The researchers found that the animals who received the herbal combination before aspirin administration exhibited fewer gastric ulcers in number, smaller areas of gastric ulcers as well as a lesser degree of stomach lining damage compared to the subjects in the aspirin group.
7. May Provide Asthma Relief
Cardamom may also provide relief for people struggling with breathing issues like asthma. One study using an animal model indicated that the spice exhibits bronchodilatory effects. That means it’s a substance that dilates the bronchi and bronchioles, decreasing resistance in the respiratory airway and increasing airflow to the lungs.
Basically, cardamom was shown to help make breathing easier, which of course is the main goal for anyone suffering from asthma or any shortness of breath.
Cardamom vs. Coriander
Cardamom and coriander are two spices that have many similar benefits. For instance, they’re both used to naturally help high blood sugar and diabetes, high blood pressure, and digestive issues. In addition, there are five digestive spices in Ayurveda that have been used for thousands of years with incredible success. Coriander and cardamom are both on this list. The other three are fennel, cumin and ginger.
However, there are also some distinct differences between these two spices, such as:
- Made from the seed pods of various plants in the ginger family
- Indigenous to Southern Asia and India
- Used in Ayurveda for balancing doshas and considered a warming spice
- Introduced to North America by British colonial settlers in 1670
- Guatemala is currently the largest producer
- Used as a natural remedy for bad breath, cavities and asthma
- Comes from the seed of the cilantro plant
- Native to the Mediterranean and other points in Southern Europe to Northern Africa and all the way to Western Asia
- Used in Ayurveda for balancing doshas and considered a cooling spice
- Brought to the Americas via Guatemala initially by a German coffee planter in 1914
- India is currently the largest producer
- Used as a food-poisoning preventative, helps treat UTIs and improves cholesterol levels
Where to Buy Cardamom
Ground cardamom is readily available and found in grocery stores, but it’s best to buy it in the form of whole pods if you can find them (and have the time to do a little spice grinding).
What can be substituted for cardamom? One option is coriander, which also has a floral flavor somewhat similar to cardamom flavor. Ginger, nutmeg and cinnamon are other options some people use as a cardamom substitute, but remember that cardamom taste is very unique so there is no perfect cardamom replacement.
How to Use and Store It
This spice pairs well with flavors like cinnamon, vanilla, almond, ginger, clove, coconut and rose. It adds a complex depth when combined with these flavors.
What is cardamom used for? It’s a popular additive in the Indian chai tea. Cacao and cardamom are a great pairing as well. It can also be used in savory stews and soups, all types of breads, as well as sweeter dishes like puddings, cakes, pancakes and pies. It’s a great spice to use for steeping in hot liquids like green and mint teas or cold smoothies too.
This herb can be used whole or steeped in hot water and various liquids to create cardamom tea and other infused beverages. The seeds can also be removed from the cardamom pod to be ground and added into various dishes and smoothies.
A benefit of the pods is that they stay fresh longer and are more potent. This spice can be stored for up to a year when purchased in the pod form and can be ground with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
How to Use Cardamom
There are so many delicious cardamom recipes that are not only tasty, but also loaded with other healthy ingredients. You may want to test out this delicious and easy herbal Chai Tea Recipe with the addition of one to two pods of the spice to steep and remove before drinking or grind the seeds of one pod and add in with the other spices.
Risks and Side Effects
Cardamom is considered safe when taken by mouth in normal food amounts. What are the side effects of cardamom? There are no known common, potential cardamom side effects when it’s ingested in normal food amounts.
Is cardamom bad for health? One circumstance that warrants avoiding it is if you have gallstones because the seed may trigger spasmodic pain for gallstone sufferers.
The safety of medicinal amounts for pregnant and nursing moms is unclear. There is concern that medicinal amounts may cause miscarriage. If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, then it’s best to have this spice in food amounts and not medicinal amounts. Also check with your doctor before taking it in medicinal amounts if you have a medical condition and/or you currently take medication.
- Known as the “queen of spices,” cardamom is a favorite in India both for its culinary and medicinal value.
- It can be purchased whole in pods or pre-ground.
- This spice can be added to a wide range of food and beverages, including hot teas, curries, stews, smoothies and desserts.
- It’s especially high in the trace mineral manganese, providing 80 percent of your daily requirements in just one tablespoon.
- It also contains fiber, iron, magnesium, calcium, zinc, potassium and phosphorus, which are all essential nutrients that contribute to the many potential benefits of cardamom.
- Studies show that it can be an effective natural remedy for lowering blood pressure, which benefits heart and kidney health.
- Research has found that it can kill bacteria in the mouth that contributes to bad breath and cavities.
- This spice has shown potential when it comes to the natural treatment of diabetes, cancer and asthma.