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What is Elettaria?

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  • Written By: Niki Foster
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2016
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Elettaria is a genus of flowering herb in the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. There are either one or two species, native to the rain forests of southeastern Asia. Some consider Sri Lankan Elettaria plants to constitute a separate species, E. repens or Ceylon cardamom, while others consider all members of the genus to belong to the species E. cardamomum.

Commonly called green cardamom or true cardamom, Elettaria is a shrub growing to 13 feet (4 meters) in height. It has long, pointed leaves, and white to light purple flowers. The fruit, which is dried to make the culinary spice cardamom, is small, yellowish green, and full of black seeds.

Elettaria is the most widely grown source of cardamom, cultivated well outside its native range for this purpose. Guatemala produces and exports the highest quantity of cardamom worldwide. Other cardamom plants belong to a separate genus, Amomum, also called black or brown cardamom, which features larger seed pods.

There are three natural varieties of Elettaria, though more have been created in cultivation. Malabar cardamom is native to the Indian state of Kerala, while Mysore cardamom is native to the state of Karnataka. The third variety, Vazhuka, is a hybrid of the other two.

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The spice cardamom is the dried fruit or seed pod of Elettaria or other cardamom plants. It may be used whole or ground. Cardamom is usually sold whole, and ground just before use, since it quickly loses flavor when the seed pod is broken.

Cardamom has a sweet, aromatic, and complex flavor. It may be used in sweet or savory dishes. The spice is most often used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine. Cardamom is commonly found in Indian curries and sweets, as well as in coffee and tea drinks, including masala chai and Turkish tea.

The seed pods of the cardamom plant are also chewed to freshen the breath. They are often provided after meals for this purpose, for example in Indian restaurants. The spice has been used as in ingredient in chewing gum and as a botanical in gin.

In its native range, cardamon is used in traditional medicine as well as cuisine. It is used to treat ailments of the teeth, mouth, throat, and digestive system. Cardamon may also be used to treat lung congestion and tuberculosis, kidney stones and gallstones, and inflammation of the eyelids. It has also been used as an antivenom against snake bites and scorpion stings.

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