Cardamom is one of the fragrant ingredients that helps give chai tea and curry their unique, warm flavors in addition to being a favorite ingredient of a variety of cultures for centuries.
Elletaria cardamomum, cardamom’s scientific name, is a member of the ginger family and originated in India.1 In fact, its cultivation is still limited to few countries, including India, Sri Lanka and Guatemala. Known as the queen of spices, cardamom features a pleasant aroma and slightly pungent taste, with its seeds leaving a warm feeling in the mouth.2
The ingredient is mentioned in Vedic texts and is common in ayurvedic medicines.1
In the kitchen
Cardamom’s flavor is extremely versatile, and it works well in both sweet and savory dishes. Cardamom seeds can be ground into powder, or the whole pods can be used—often with the seeds removed—in a variety of dishes, including desserts, chutneys and soups.2
It is one of the spices used to make garam masala, a basic blend of ground spices common in South Asian cuisines, and it works well in herbal infusions and tonics, chai drinks and coffee.2
For a warm and interesting touch, spa cuisine chefs reach for cardamom’s distinct flavor in:
Oatmeal Pumpkin Muffins—Spa Body Makeover, Santa Monica, California;
Pinot Noir Cranberry Sauce—Coastal Trek Health & Fitness Resort, Forbidden Plateau, British Columbia, Canada;
Rock Lobster Curry—Chiva-Som, Bangkok and Hua Hin, Thailand;
Mango, Cardamom and Pistachio Kulfi—Gaia Retreat & Spa, Brooklet, Australia; and
the Omega Sensation Smoothie—See the recipe from Executive Chef Chad Luethje of Miraval, Tucson, Arizona.
In the spa
Cardamom features a variety of health benefits that stem from its high amount of volatile oils, such as borneol, camphor, eucalyptol, limonene and terpinine.1 Along with its whole-body benefits, such as assisting with digestion, bad breath and depression, cardamom’s antioxidant and antiseptic benefits help to cleanse the skin. Additionally, its warming properties make cardamom oil great for massage, although it is better to use it on oil-rich skin, and not on sensitive or allergic skin.
As one of the oldest essential oils, cardamom is used in traditional Chinese medicine as a qi tonic that invigorates the lungs, spleen and nerves, as well as aiding in removing listlessness and depression. It also features an uplifting, spicy and refreshing aroma.3
Its benefits are featured in a variety of spa services aimed at rejuvenating and improving skin, such as:
The Spice Island Massage, which features a stimulating aroma combination of cardamom and nutmeg infused into a massage balm—Spa Oceana, The Don CeSar, St. Pete Beach, Florida;
The Magic of the Silk Route, a service that draws upon techniques and spices from Thailand, India and China, and includes a full-body exfoliation using cardamom and nutmeg—The Spa at The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colorado;
The 5-Elements Massage contains essential oils representing each element, with cardamom representing the yin earth element—The Spa at Marina Dunes Resort, Marina, California;
The Spiced Hot Stone Massage balances and restores using traditional spices, including cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and pepper—V-Spa at the Hilton Anatole, Dallas;
The Jivana Body Polish, featuring an exfoliation that soothes and hydrates using an aromatic blend of cardamom, and rose hip and seed oil—Estancia La Jolla Hotel & Spa, San Diego; and
The Hammam Ritual, a detoxifying ritual body treatment that draws deep impurities from the body for a warm radiance, featuring cardamom amber oil. See the step-by-step how-to from Spa Luce at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel & Spa, Hollywood, California.
Professional skin care products also use the benefits of cardamom oil and seeds.
Skin Authority’s Warming Glow Body Oil blends cardamom, bergamot, jasmine, sweet orange and cedarwood extracts to warm and hydrate the skin.
Red Flower’s Cardamom Amber Oil helps warm the system internally and externally, increasing circulation for calm, nourished, relaxed skin.
Éminence Organic Skin Care’s Pumpkin Cream Body Wrap includes cardamom essential oil for its antibacterial and healing properties.
Elizabeth Van Buren offers Cardamom essential oil for its warming, uplifting and regulatory properties.
Cuccio Naturale’s Rosemary Cardamom Massage Crème stimulates the senses with cardamom while providing hydration without the oily residue.
Sonya Dakar’s Red Grapefruit Wash includes cardamom extract that works with the red grapefruit extract to balance and nourish skin.
Bioelements’ Lip Buff, which exfoliates and helps reduce lines and improve texture around the mouth, features cardamom oil to help soothe and comfort lips.
Healing Herbal Soups’ Metabolism Stimulator Soup stimulates metabolism and warms digestion, using ingredients such as cardamom, butternut squash, nutmeg and Saigon cinnamon.
A touch of the exotic
Many different cultures embrace cardamom for its rich, distinctive flavor and scent, as well as its healing properties for both the skin and soul. For a touch of the exotic, consider adding this special spice to your spa menu to bring a taste of the unique to your clients.
(All accessed Dec 30, 2009)