Cardamom: the spice
December 20, 2018
I’ve awoken over recent days with the taste of cardamom fading from a dream and this has left me in a peculiar mood, wishing I could remember the dream’s content.
Cardamon or cardamom, is a spice made from the seeds of plants in the genera Elettaria in the family Zingiberaceae. Other popular Zingiberaceae spices that are popular medicinal plants include ginger and turmeric. Cardamom is native to the Indian subcontinent and Indonesia. The cardamom we know best is Elettaria cardamomum, native to the forests of Southwestern India. Early references to cardamom are found in Sumeria, and in Ayurvedc texts of India.
Even the mention of cardamom brings to my mind memories of fresh Danish pastries at Grandfather Maurie Penn’s Detroit Bakery in East Los Angeles half a century ago. The flavor is so associated with Danish pastries. In this country, we don’t use it all that often. In the Middle East, green cardamom is used to flavor many dishes, including coffee. In fact, perhaps the simplest way to increase your cardamom intake is to toss a seed pod or two in the coffee grinder when preparing your morning coffee.
Cardamom is being researched for a wide spectrum of medicinal benefits as might be expected from any plant relative of ginger and turmeric.
A human placebo trial is currently underway in Iran using cardamom powder to treat patients with non-alcoholic cirrhosis, that is fatty liver disease. Patients are receiving 3 grams per day of encapsulated ground seed in divided doses. [i]
Another placebo-controlled study currently in progress is giving the same dose of cardamom (3 g/day) to patients who have type 2 diabetes. [ii]
This same dose of 3 g/day has been used in several studies, including one published in 2017.
In this 2017 study, 80 women who had been diagnosed with prediabetes, were overweight and had elevated lipids were divided into two groups. The experimental group took cardamom daily and the second group received placebo. Cardamom improved various inflammatory markers and reduced oxidative stress in the experimental group of patients: “… cardamom supplementation significantly decreased serum hs-CRP (P = 0.02), hs-CRP:IL-6 ratio (P = 0.008), and MDA (P = 0.009) compared with the placebo group.[iii]
In a small 2009 published clinical trial, the same dose was given to 20 people newly diagnosed with high blood pressure for 12 weeks. The “… cardamom powder significantly (p<0.001) decreased systolic, diastolic and mean blood pressure and significantly (p<0.05) increased fibrinolytic activity at the end of 12th week. Total antioxidant status was also significantly (p<0.05) increased by 90% at the end of 3 months…” [iv]
In a 2017 rat experiment cardamom significantly decreased cholesterol level. Cardamom oil, as used to flavor candies, was given to rats with high cholesterol for 8 weeks. A significant reduction in total cholesterol (31%), low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (44%) and serum triglycerides (42%) was observed. [v]
Adding cardamom powder to the diets of rats who were given metabolic syndrome by feeding them a high fat/high carbohydrate diet, effectively protected them from ill effects, in particular, liver damage, and hyperglycemia. [vi]
In a brand-new 2019 study, cardamom protected diabetic rats from developing Alzheimer’s disease-like symptoms.[vii]
PubMed lists another 250 citations for a search on cardamom. This is convincing enough to encourage our use of more cardamom while cooking.
Cardamom is best stored unground in the whole pod. When exposed to air or simply ground, the spice quickly loses flavor and our guess is medicinal action.
For recipes a generally accepted equivalent is 10 pods equals 1 1⁄2 teaspoons of ground cardamom. It is a shame that I hadn’t read this part before starting to make Danish pastries this morning. We are following the King Arthur Flour website’s recipe. I may try to slip some fresh ground powder into one of the folds of dough. Making Danish is very similar to French croissant. Danish dough is a bit richer, a touch of vanilla, but the same tedious process of folding the dough and rolling it out cardamom spice is the main difference.
For those of you who live in Colorado, as is typical of all the King Arthur recipes, the flour to liquid ratio is wrong. You need less flour than they suggest (or perhaps more liquid). People who live in Vermont, where the King Arthur company headquarters, have no conception how dry it is here in Colorado anymore than we can imagine their high humidity.
Adding cardamom to your coffee is the easiest way to increase consumption. Our detour to mention Danish is just to whet your appetite.
The other reason to mention Danish pastry is that we have a long tradition of writing about Christmas foods and related subjects this time of year. Links to past articles:
2007 Fruit Cake: http://www.denvernaturopathic.com/synergyofphytochemicals.htm
2013 Christmas Stollen: http://www.denvernaturopathic.com/Christmas-stollen-2.htm
2013: Wassail: http://www.denvernaturopathic.com/wassail-2013.htm
[granted there is no food recipe using mistletoe but it is seasonal]
Flax seed cookies (which have little to do with any holiday, but someone recently asked for the recipe) http://www.denvernaturopathic.com/flax-bloodpressure.htm
[i] Daneshi-Maskooni M, Keshavarz SA, Mansouri S, et al. The effects of green cardamom on blood glucose indices, lipids, inflammatory factors, paraxonase-1, sirtuin-1, and irisin in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and obesity: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials. 2017 Jun 7;18(1):260. doi: 10.1186/s13063-017-1979-3.
[ii] Aghasi M, Ghazi-Zahedi S, Koohdani F, et al. The effects of green cardamom supplementation on blood glucose, lipids profile, oxidative stress, sirtuin-1 and irisin in type 2 diabetic patients: a study protocol for a randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2018 Jan 17;18(1):18.
[iii] Kazemi S, Yaghooblou F, Siassi F, et al. Cardamom supplementation improves inflammatory and oxidative stress biomarkers in hyperlipidemic, overweight, and obese pre-diabetic women: a randomized double-blind clinical trial. J Sci Food Agric. 2017 Dec;97(15):5296-5301.
[iv] Verma SK, Jain V, Katewa SS. Blood pressure lowering, fibrinolysis enhancing and antioxidant activities of cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum). Indian J Biochem Biophys. 2009 Dec;46(6):503-6.
[v] Nagashree S, Archana KK, Srinivas P, Srinivasan K, Sowbhagya HB. Anti-hypercholesterolemic influence of the spice cardamom (Elettaria cardamomum) in experimental rats. J Sci Food Agric. 2017 Aug;97(10):3204-3210.
[vi] Rahman MM, Alam MN, Ulla A, et al. Cardamom powder supplementation prevents obesity, improves glucose intolerance, inflammation and oxidative stress in liver of high carbohydrate high fat diet induced obese rats. Lipids Health Dis. 2017 Aug 14;16(1):151.
[vii] Gomaa AA, Makboul RM, El-Mokhtar MA, et al. Terpenoid-rich Elettaria cardamomum extract prevents Alzheimer-like alterations induced in diabetic rats via inhibition of GSK3β activity, oxidative stress and pro-inflammatory cytokines. Cytokine. 2019 Jan;113:405-416.