When I think of my childhood in India, I think of cardamom. Cardamom in rice pudding, cardamom in chicken curry, cardamom in the pot of ‘chai’ tea my mom and aunts would drink and gossip around on a rainy afternoon. I remember biting into a cardamom pod in a dish and the avalanche of flavors that would ensue – flowers, pepper, citrus – their intensity and warmth comforting me wholly. I also recall cardamom making an appearance when I was sick. Cardamom concoctions with honey and ginger and basil were touted as a cure for colds, coughs, stomachaches, nausea – the list was endless! Typical of many spices, cardamom straddled my mom’s kitchen and medicine cabinet.
Now as an adult, far away from my homeland, cardamom, the ‘Queen of Spices’, reigns supreme in my pantry. Cardamom lends a gorgeous floral, sweet and peppery flavor to both savory and sweet dishes. It is typically used in South Asian and Middle Eastern meat, poultry and vegetable preparations, desserts, tea, coffee and in Scandinavian baking.
There are two types of cardamom pods, green and black. I would recommend green cardamom to start as it has a more sophisticated and mellow flavor while black cardamom is slightly harsher, minty and smoky (although quite lovely in particular recipes). Each cardamom pod contains about 10-15 tiny black, superbly aromatic seeds and that’s mostly where the magic lies.
Cardamom can be purchased whole or ground. While it’s tempting to buy it pre-ground, I strongly suggest getting the whole pods and grinding them when necessary. If the thought of grinding anything sounds exhausting (and trust me, it can seems like the most effortful extra step when rushing through cooking), there are plenty of short cuts - like smashing! - to extract all the flavor and aroma from those delightful seeds with very little effort. The seeds lose their zing rapidly after being exposed to air. The best bang for your buck is to keep them protected in their pods for as long as possible before you ask them to impart their beauty to your dish. If grinding a small amount, I would suggest smashing the pod, taking out the seeds and grinding them with a mortar and pestle. If you want to do a larger batch or add them to a spice mixture, you can add the whole pods and grind them in a coffee or spice grinder.
'Nice to know’ cardamom facts
1) Cardamom is the third most expensive spice in the world after saffron and vanilla. A little goes a long way, however, so one doesn’t need to break the bank to enjoy it.
2) The cardamom plant is a member of the ginger family and grows to about 5m (16ft for the Americans) in height, sprouting tiny fruit in the shape of pods.
3) Guatemala is the largest producer of cardamom followed by India.
4) Wrigleys’ Eclipse Breeze gum has cardamom in it! http://www.theimpulsivebuy.com/wordpress/2009/10/12/review-eclipse-breeze-gum-exotic-berry-exotic-mint
I introduced cardamom to my son Ilhan when he was just 8 months old. He absolutely loved it and I was thrilled that he got my cardamom obsessing genes. I reckon most kids would take to it given its lovely floral and sweet qualities. Here are some health reasons I’d encourage you to incorporate cardamom into your kid’s (and whole family’s!) life.
Like most spices, cardamom’s allure is not due to its flavor enhancing abilities alone. For thousands of years, from the centuries old Indian medical system Ayurveda to Traditional Chinese Medicine to ancient Egypt, cardamom has been revered for its medicinal properties. Some of it’s traditionally claimed benefits include:
1) Anti-infective for the teeth, gums and eyelids
2) Breath freshener (Wrigleys apparently got the memo!)
3) Digestive aid to relieve stomach pain, nausea and bloating
4) Appetite booster
6) Expectorant – thinning of mucous to aid in and clearing of the lungs
8) General detoxification
If you want to give cardamom a try, here are some simple suggestions on how to introduce this spice to your kids.
6 months +, Toddlers, Adults
Pears are a superb source of a class of polyphenolic compounds called flavonoids which can promote heart health and help prevent Type 2 diabetes and cancer. The skin of pears contains a large proportion of its flavonoids so I suggest buying organic pears and leaving them unpeeled for toddlers and older kids. Pears also contain Vitamins C and K and are a great source of fiber.
1 pear peeled and chopped for babies, unpeeled and chopped for toddlers and kids especially if using organic pears
1 clove (beginner) or 2 cloves (advanced) cardamom smashed lightly or half the seeds from 1 pod freshly ground for a stronger flavor
1/4 cup water
Add the water to a pot with a lid, a pressure cooker if you’re using one or your baby food gadget of choice.
Add the smashed or ground cardamom and chopped pears. If steaming without direct contact with the water, you can add the pod to the water, which will impart some flavor and essence but much less so compared to directly cooking the fruit in cardamom infused water. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the pears are soft enough to eat or puree for younger babies. Make sure there is enough water to prevent them from burning and sticking to the pot. Remove the cardamom pod and any seeds you spot although a couple left behind won't hurt. Depending on how watery you’d like the puree, you can add some of the cooking water to the pears and blend or leave in pieces and serve.
Offer the puree to your baby as is, in cereal, with yoghurt or mixed with other fruits and veggies. Some combinations that work nicely:
Cardamom pears with banana
Cardamom pears with peach
Cardamom pears with green beans
Cardamom pears with peas and broccoli
Cardamom pears with mango and spinach
If combining with veggies, cook the pears together with the veggies adding the cardamom as described above. Then add in the uncooked fruit (mangoes, bananas) and blend.
Toddlers, older kids and adults can enjoy these purees with yogurt or in cereal, oatmeal or whatever other combination strikes your fancy. Or skip the pureeing step and offer the cardamom infused fruit or veg in pieces to your entire family.
Other fruits and veggies that can be cooked similarly with cardamom:
Butternut or acorn squash
Download the recipe here.
Intrigued by these traditional medicine claims and having experienced some of cardamom’s benefits myself, I had to put on my scientist hat and find out – is cardamom really a form of nature’s medicine? I discovered some very convincing evidence that cardamom does indeed have amazing health promoting and disease fighting properties. The next post will delve into the scientific evidence for the medicinal power of cardamom. We’ll also get into more ‘sophisticated’ recipes for older babies and toddlers. The final two posts in the series will suggest ‘family meals’ for everyone, including older kids to enjoy. I’ll try and stick with this format for all spices that I cover.
Stay tuned and thanks for stopping by. Oh and let me know what you think!
Breath Freshner Detoxification