For those who are ardent fans of cardamom and make curious travellers, a spice tour to one of the cardamom plantation in Thekkady in Kerala is a great idea to pick interesting facets and facts about its demeanor, growth, size and grades.
In the heartland of spice world, it is hard to resist a love affair with the heady fragrance of the queen of spices. She is the special one whose leaves are aromatic, whose fruits are called capsules, whose seeds reside inside peacock green coloured pods and whose herbaceous perennial crop claims a relationship with the famous ginger family. It lends lingering fragrance to Indian biryanis, sums up Swedish baking, enhances the taste of Scandinavian coffee and adds a magical flavour to everything, from curries to desserts. While Pepper is known as the King of Spices, Cardamon is the beloved queen. For the alluring detoxification properties it possesses and for the appearances it makes in the household’s kitchen and medicine cabinets, it rarely tells its own story.
Taking a look in the kitchen of the world From the cardamom flavoured coffees prepared by the Bedouins to Swedish flatbreads and cakes to Uzebkistan’s famous rice dishes to the Srilankan chicken curries to Oriental rice-and-meat dishes, for example, Turkish pilav and Arabic kabsah, to the Indian Elaichi tea, the distinguishable flavour and woody notes of cardamom are often employed for various culinary adventures all over the world. Most of the kitchens in India are able to boast having cardamoms because of the extensive Eletaria cardamomum plantations in Kumily, Thekkady and the Cardamom hills which comprise of the Western Ghats and clusters of Periyar Tiger reserve. 70 per cent of India’s cardamom grows in the state of Kerala at an altitude of 600 to 1200 mt and you will be surprised to know that only a small share of the Indian production is exported because of the large domestic demands.
For the love of Cardamom
There is something so captivating about the sweet, a little camphorous, eucalyptuslike aroma of cardamom that a walk through the winding pathways in the lush green spice plantations of Thekkady in the Idukki district of Kerala urges one to dig in the facts and learn what goes into the making of cardamoms from its flowers to fruits before it reaches the kitchens. Some of the most interesting facts are based on its classification. Some traders and buyers love the biggest pods and some pick the smallest pods. There are three main varieties- 8 mm and above are special quality, 6.5 mm and above are popular and 5.5 -6.5 are small. Cardamom is also recognised based on the nature of panicles (stem). In the international market, they are recognised in three varieties – ‘Alleppey Green Extra Bold’ (AGEB), ‘Alleppey Green Bold’ (AGB) and ‘Alleppey Green Superior’ (AGS). The perennial plant of cardamom never fails to build interest of the on-lookers as the flower stems grow out from the base around the perimeter of the clump and the pods (capsules), which hold the tightly packed seeds, are born on these stems. Interestingly, the plant thrives in filtered shade and doesn’t need direct sunlight. These thick shrub-like plants happily grow up to 2 – 4 m in height under the canopy of much higher trees. When it is green and dry, it is easy to pick and store. Born of attractive flowers, pods, seeds and ground, the cardamom crop can be harvested four times a year.
Processes that make it precious
One can vouch for the delicacy and freshness of the cardamoms from India not just because it grows in one of the most suitable climates but also because the cardamom planters have a passion for it. Cleaning is the primary process. Some planters soak the freshly picked cardamom in washing soda solution to keep its green colour intact, others wash it in water to remove the dirt and stalks. Next follows drying. Initially there used to be drying shed or wooden chambers (fuel kilns) which maintained a constant temperature to dry the pods but now there are drying machines (electrical drier) which provide the essentials, 45-50°C for 14- 18 hours. Uniform drying is extremely essential and thus the drier stirs them frequently. Winnowing removes the foreign matter. And next they are sorted and packed in gunny bags based on size and colour. They are kept in wooden chambers till they are sent for auction and final packaging. There should be no light right from the drying process to prevent the impact on colour.
Too many healthy reasons to love Cardamom
For decades, the queen of spices has been alluring not just for its flavour alone but also for its Ayurveda and medicinal properties. While it acts as anti-infecting for the gums and teeth, it helps to relief the cough in the lungs. It is digestive as well as of the nature of an aphrodisiac. The spicy pods not just contain many essential volatile oils but the seeds are a good source of minerals like potassium and calcium. Additionally, the pods are also rich in many vital vitamins, iron and manganese too.
Words: Manjulika Pramod