Latin name: Elettaria cardamomum (Amomum cardamomum)
Common names: Cardamom, Cardemon, Cardamum, True Cardamom
Cardamom must be differentiated from Black Cardamom (or Nepal Cardamom, or Greater Indian Cardamom), Amomum subulatum Roxb., and similar substitutes.
The seeds of Black Cardamom are normally large (typically 3 cm), and the brown pods are sold whole. Black Cardamom has a fresh and aromatic but also smoky aroma.
A spice, which may result in allergy symptoms in sensitised individuals.
Cardamom, a member of the Ginger family, is one of the world’s oldest spices, known to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. It is native to the East, originating in the forests of the Western Ghats in southern India, where it grows wild. Today it also grows in Sri Lanka, Guatemala, Indochina and Tanzania. It is one of the two or three most expensive spices.
It is often adulterated, and there are many inferior substitutes from related plants (see above). However, only Elettaria cardamomum is the true Cardamom. Indian Cardamom is known in two main varieties: Malabar Cardamom and Mysore Cardamom. The Mysore variety contains higher levels of cineol and limonene, and hence is more aromatic.
Cardamom is produced by a perennial bush of the Ginger family, with sheathed stems reaching 2 to 5 m in height. The flowers are green with a white, purple-veined tip. Trailing leafy stalks grow from the plant base. These bear the oval or oblate seed pods, which are triangular in cross-section. The small, brown-black, sticky seeds are contained in a pod in 3 double rows with about 6 seeds in each row. The pods are between 5 and 20 mm long: the larger – the black variety (see above) – is not a true Cardamom, while the smaller, green one is. White-bleached pods are also available. Pods are sold whole or split, and the seeds loose or ground.
For cooking, the pods can be used whole or split. Cardamom belongs to the sweet spices group and is used predominantly to flavour sweets, baked goods and coffee, particularly in the Arab countries. (1) The oil is one of the oldest known essential oils and is used as a flavourant in liqueurs. The volatile oil constitutes about 5% of the seed's total weight, not a particularly impressive proportion for a spice.
In the East, the plant is also used medicinally, for digestive ailments. In Western medicine it is merely a flavourant or other additive to medicines, typically those for indigestion and flatulence. The Arabs attributed aphrodisiac qualities to it (it features regularly in the Arabian Nights), and the ancient Indians regarded it as a cure for obesity.
No allergens from this plant have yet been characterised.
Extensive cross-reactivity between the different individual species of the Ginger family could be expected, but has not been documented to date. (2)
In a study of Celery- and pollen- allergic patients, specific IgE was found to Cardamom in a number of individuals in the study group. (3)
Anecdotal evidence suggests that Cardamom may induce symptoms of food allergy in sensitised individuals; however, few studies have been reported to date. (4, 5, 6) It is possible that the allergy occurs more frequently than has been reported.
Although contact and systemic contact-type dermatitis reactions to spices such as Cardamom, Nutmeg, Mace, Curry, Cinnamon, and Laurel may be rare, they may also often be overlooked. (4)
A 22-year-old woman reported urticaria, dyspnoea and bronchial asthma-like attacks after eating curried rice, attributed to an immediate-type allergy caused by spice allergens contained in curry spice. Of the individual spices, skin-prick tests were positive to cumin, fennel, dill, fenugreek, cayenne, ginger, cardamom, garlic, garam masala, mustard seed and coconut milk, and negative to 13 others tested, including curry powder. (5)
Anaphylaxis to curry powder was reported in a 26-year-old nurse who developed severe bronchospasm. Initial symptoms were generalised itching, diarrhoea and stridor, which were reproduced 20 minutes later following an oral challenge of curry and rice. The causative allergens were narrowed down to cardamom and fenugreek. Serum-specific IgE to both was high. (6)
Atopic dermatitis and contact dermatitis have been described in a confectioner with chronic hand dermatitis. A patch test to cardamom was positive. (7)
In a study of workers in a Swedish spice factory, irritant patch test reactions were recorded from powder of cardamom. (8)
Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman.
- Govindarajan VS, Narasimhan S, Raghuveer KG, Lewis YS. Cardamom--production, technology, chemistry, and quality. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 1982;16(3):229-326.
- Yman L. Botanical relations and immunological cross-reactions in pollen allergy. 2nd ed. Pharmacia Diagnostics AB. Uppsala. Sweden. 1982: ISBN 91-970475-09.
- Wüthrich B, Stöger P, Johansson SGO. RAST-spezifische IgE auf Gewurze bei Sensibilisierungen gegen Allergologie 1992;15:380-3.
- Dooms-Goossens A, Dubelloy R, Degreef H. Contact and systemic contact-type dermatitis to spices. Dermatol Clin 1990;8(1):89-93.
- Yagami A, Nakazawa Y, Suzuki K, Matsunaga K. Curry spice allergy associated with pollen-food allergy syndrome and latex fruit-syndrome. J Dermatol 2009;36(1):45-9.
- Ohnuma N, Yamaguchi E, Kawakami Y. Anaphylaxis to curry powder. Allergy 1998;53(4):452-4.
- Mobacken H, Fregert S. Allergic contact dermatitis from cardamom. Contact Dermatitis 1975;1(3):175-6.
- Meding B Skin symptoms among workers in a spice factory. Contact Dermatitis 1993;29(4):202-5.