My first encounter with Alainchi/Big cardamon/Black cardamom/Badi Elaichi was a rather confusing one. You see, my mother used the powdered version of it, so I didn’t see the real fruit until I was 10 years old and lost in a godown full of herbs and spices. Like any curious 10-year-old kid, I first tried to break it and then decided to taste the entire seeds in the pod, well, bad idea. The sharp menthol flavor was too much to handle.

To my relief, I was soon joined by my father who probably understood the situation. He gave me a glass of water and then patiently answered all my questions regarding this black pod with a strong smell that reminded me of green cardamom. I was surprised to know that such a small piece of spice could be of so much medicinal value. Since then, I have been a fan of alainchi (black cardamom). I think it has become an indispensable part of my kitchen spices wherever I have been to.

Like me, I am pretty sure most of you would have thought that black cardamom is similar to the regular chai improving and sweet-tasting green cardamom. Well, if that’s the case, you’re in for some surprise. But before we understand the difference, let’s first learn more about this extremely potent spice.

So, what is Black cardamom?

The botanical name of Black cardamom is Amomum subulatum. It is a perennial herbaceous plant belonging to the ginger family. If you were to travel in the hilly regions of Nepal, there are high chances you will find it in the backyard of the local people. Black cardamom is one of the most expensive spices in the world and has some amazing titles as well. It is called the ” Queen of Spices” and “Black gold” respectively.

Black cardamom plant (Source: Wikimedia commons)

This is a beautiful plant with splendid leaves and flowers.

Black cardamom flower (Source: thesacredsap.com)

When harvested, the black cardamom is dark pink in color. It then needs drying.

Black cardamom plant with fruits (Source: Quinta dos Ouriques)

The drying is done in two ways: 1)Over the traditional Nepalese fire oven 2) Drying in the sun. The oven dried or smoked black cardamom is highly preferred in preparing spices especially in the Arab countries.

Dried Black cardamom

Black cardamom physical features:

When you look at black cardamom, I don’t think it will trigger, “Wow, what a beauty!” response but it has its smell and flavor to nullify that. It is dark brown in color, roughly one inch in length. The pod is dried, tough and wrinkly and the seeds inside are small, sticky and black in color. Black cardamom has a pungent aroma with a citrus and eucalyptus flavor.

Black cardamom with seeds (Source: Indiamart)

Flavor: It has a note of resin, camphor and menthol. It is considered to be a warming spice and usually added to the black pepper, mace category.

Black cardamom health benefits:

Black cardamom is more than a spice and a mouth freshner. It has many medicinal benefits as well and is widely used in Ayurvedic, Unani and Chinese medicines since ages.

Health benefits:

  1. It is a natural antioxidant, antimicrobial and analgesic. It also has anti-inflammatory properties.
  2. It may be able to treat Ischemic heart disease.
  3. It can cure indigestion and nausea
  4. It reduces insulin resistance
  5. It can also be used to treat sore throat.
  6. It also improves liver health
  7. It has been found to have a lipid lowering effect on the body because of its polyphenolic content.
  8. Gargling with an infusion of black cardamom can treat oral diseases
  9. Black cardamom paste can be used to cure itching diseases like Eczema.
  10. The essential oil of black cardamom can be used as a pain reliever and treating cold and sinusitis.
  11. In Ayurveda, it has also been mentioned as a cure for snakebites.

Beauty benefits:

  1. Black cardamom promotes healthy blood circulation, improving skin health
  2. It has skin lightening properties.
  3. The essential oil of black cardamom is very good for treating skin allergies
  4. Since it is a natural antioxidant, black cardamom keeps the scalp healthy and provides it with nourishment
  5. It also prevents and treats itchy scalp
  6. It also adds glow to the skin

How to use black cardamom in your daily life?

  1. As a spice: This doesn’t need any elaboration. It is already an integral part of our garam masala and biryani masala.
  2. As a tisane: As a tisane, black cardamom is wonderful. I would recommend the sundried black cardamom for this, if you are not a fan of the smoky flavor. You can pair it up with cinnamon or lemongrass or both!
  3. As an essential oil: Well, as it is mentioned above, the essential oil of black cardamom is useful for both beauty and body. If you are using the essential oil for massaging, we would recommend adding it to a base oil like mustard or sesame. If you are using on your face, maybe use it as a part of your facemask. Based on the purity of essential oil, you can always vary the content.
  4. As a mouth freshener: This needs no explanation. Just chew 2 seeds and that should be enough

The Black cardamom economy

I need not mention how important black cardamom is as a spice. Black cardamon is the third most expensive spice in the world after Saffron and Vanilla. That’s why it is one of the major cash crops in Nepal.

Black cardamom is the third most expensive spice in the world after Saffron and Vanilla

Did you know that Nepal is one of the top 5 producers of black cardamom in the world? Nepal is home to 14 different varieties of black cardamom.

Black cardamom plants in the vegetable garden

It is the largest producer of large cardamom covering 55 percent of the average annual world production (MoF, 2020; ITC and GoN, 2016).

Farmers harvesting black cardamom (Source: The Kathmandu Post)

So next time when you are in the store and buying black cardamom for your perfect biryani, well, try and look for the Nepalese variety because it is one of the best quality of black cardamom that you will find.

Have any interesting facts to share about black cardamom? Do share it in the comments section.

References:

REVIEW ON STATUS OF LARGE CARDAMOM (AMOMUM SUBULATUM ROXB.)
PRODUCTION AND MARKETING IN NEPAL

A REVIEW ON STATUS OF PRODU¬CTION OF LARGE CARDAMOM IN NEPAL AND ITS
MARKETING IN NATIONAL AND GLOBAL SCENARIO – 1Abishkar Khatiwada, 1Aadesh Subedi, 1Rashmi Dangol

Easyayurveda.com

Newnepaldream.blogspot.com

Cardamom powder supplementation prevents obesity, improves glucose intolerance, inflammation and oxidative stress in liver of high carbohydrate high fat diet induced obese rats
Md Mizanur Rahman,1 Mohammad Nazmul Alam,1 Anayt Ulla,1 Farzana Akther Sumi,1 Nusrat Subhan,1 Trisha Khan,1 Bishwajit Sikder,1 Hemayet Hossain,2 Hasan Mahmud Reza,1 and Md Ashraful Alamcorresponding author1

plants.ces.ncsu.edu

nutritionvistas.com

BIOLOGICAL AND THERAPEUTIC USES OF AMOMUM SUBULATUM ROXB: A REVIEW