It's difficult to imagine biryani without cardamom pods. Pods of cardamom are slowly fried in desi ghee, gradually lowered from the pan to gently integrate with the rice granules. Even the thought is so pleasant and the act holds visual appeal. Umm..the unmistakable aroma of cardamom in the ground form or as a whole adds a zing element to any dish, whether it's savoury or sweet dish.
Agreed, so what makes cardamom so special? An honest confession, there's nothing subtle about cardamom. To begin with, cardamom has such complex flavours that it's difficult to offer an accurate description. By and large, people tend to agree that the flavour is contrasting. When a pod of cardamom explodes in your mouth, it carries floral hints, is sweet and yet has a spicy feeling. This peculiar combo of flavours has made it an exotic spice.
Cardamom is appropriately hailed as the Queen of Spices, and no marks for guessing this. People in the spice trade agree that globally it's rated among the most expensive spices, and scores high in value like saffron and vanilla. History has it that though the cardamom plant is native to India, Scandinavia consumes almost half the world's production. This flavourful spice caught on with the Scandinavians during the days of the spice route. Traders passed through Istanbul or Constantinople as it was known in the times of the Holy Roman Empire. Constantinople was on the expedition route of the Vikings (derived from the Old Norse and signifies sea-rover or pirate). That's where they chanced upon cardamom and introduced it to Scandinavia nearly 1,000 years ago. In the Middle East, Indian cardamom is used in Gahwa or a strong cardamom coffee concoction.
Internationally, Guatemala is the biggest producer and exporter of cardamom, with India occupying the second place. The official website of the Spices Board of India (www.indianspices.com) describes cardamom as a perennial, herbaceous, rhizomatous plant. The Board is an international link between the Indian exporters and the importers abroad. Indian cardamom is packaged in the international markets in different grades. So they are graded as Alleppey Green Extra Bold (AGEB), Alleppey Green Bold (AGB) and Alleppey Green Superior (AGS).
Cardamom cultivation happens mostly in the evergreen forests of the Western Ghats in South India.Cardamom cultivation in India got a fillip when the Spices Board or the former Cardamom Board, Government of India, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, established the Indian Cardamom Research Institute (ICRI) in Myladumpara, Kerala in 1978. Since then, the thrust has been on improving cardamom production and post harvest technologies to make domestic cardamom competitive in the international scenario. R&D on small cardamom happens at Regional Research Stations at Saklespur in Hassan District of Karnataka and Thadiankudisai in Dindigul District of Tamil Nadu. As large cardamom is an important commercial crop of Sikkim and Darjeeling, a Regional Research Station came up at Gangtok, Sikkim to undertake research on the same.
The Spices Board has introduced various schemes and subsidies for cardamom growers to scale up the production and productivity of cardamom (small) in Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and cardamom (large) in Sikkim and Darjeeling district of West Bengal. Though Indian cardamom is widely used overseas, it's extremely popular in the Middle East, Japan and Russia.
Also, the Spices Board has established several spice parks in many parts of the country. It's anyone's guess that cardamom too is on the radar. Appropriately, a 10-acre Spice Park at Puttady, Kerala grows Cardamom (Small) and Pepper. A cardamom processing plant with a 2tonne/hour capacity offers facilities like pre-cleaning, grading, sorting, weighing and packing of dried whole cardamom. There's also a full- fledged Electronic Auction centre for cardamom.
Moving beyond cardamom promotion, let's look at the commonly acknowledged factors like colour. Cardamom comes in black, white and green. The black one leaves behind a smoky feel, while the white one is derived by bleaching it in the sun and is used in desserts. The green one which tends to be used predominantly in India is strong in flavour. It's premium because it's picked while it is still young and hence expensive.
Cardamom not only flavours the food, but serves other purposes. It's a flavouring agent, improves health and is also a must-have as far as perfumes are concerned. It's an acknowledged fact that cardamom aids digestion and also helps detox the body. The essence of cardamom oil is distilled into perfumes and medicines. So don't forget to throw in cardamom pods to enrich your meal.