Elaichi as it is generally called in Hindi, is a very popular condiment added in various traditional Indian sweets or “desi mithai.” Its other local names include “Yelakka” in Malayalam, “Elakkai” in Tamil and Telugu and “Elchi” in Gujarati.
Besides its extensive use for culinary purposes, to season spicy gravies as well as to infuse aroma and sweetness to puddings, elaichi possesses immense potential in boosting physical and mental health, in addition to treating various illnesses. Not surprisingly, in ancient history as well as in the time-tested practice of Ayurveda, it is referred to as the “Queen of Spices”. Today, due to its very high demand, elaichi is the third most expensive spice worldwide, after saffron and vanilla.
Known as cardamom in English, elaichi is obtained from many different types of plants that belong to the Zingiberaceae family. They can be easily spotted by their unique appearance, as tiny seed pods, triangular in shape, with a flimsy, papery outer shell encompassing a few black seeds. The elaichi plant is native to the tropical and sub-tropical regions of Asia, namely India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Thailand and Malaysia.
Though the lime coloured seed is more preferred and available commercially, elaichi or cardamom is actually of two varieties, green cardamom and black cardamom.
Green Cardamom is derived from the plant species called Elettaria cardamomum. It is widely distributed from India through Malaysia and has a distinguishing, strong taste with a perfumed, resinous odour.
Black Cardamom is very common in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is procured from the Amomum subulatum plant that grows naturally in hilly terrains of Nepal, Bhutan and North-Eastern India, yielding a cooling, minty flavoured seed.