Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Black Cardamom - Alainchi

Fresh Black Cardamom, Black Pods - Thulo Sukumel, Nepali Alainchi - (अलैंची, ठूलो सुकुमेल)

Nepal is one of the largest growers of black cardamom.  Native to sub-Himalayan region, black cardamom is the dried fruit of a perennial herbaceous plant of the ginger family.  Apart from its usage in India, Nepal and other Asian countries, black cardamom is not very common.  Some people describe black cardamom as an inferior substitute to green cardamom, but it is considered a valuable spice in Nepal.  When cooked with this spice, it enhances and intensifies the taste of food without overpowering a dish.  It is one of the ingredients used to make Nepali Garam Masala spice blends, and is also used in meat curries, rice dishes and pickles.  It is available in Indian and Nepali food stores.  Look for pods with moist, sweet seeds, and smoky fragrance.  Old pods with splits and cracks will have poor quality seeds with no flavor.  The seeds quickly lose their flavor once the pods are opened, so store the pods whole and grind the seeds as needed...continue reading

In my 2012 visit to Nepal, I had an opportunity to visit my friend's private Alainchi garden. Black Cardamom is largely produced in an organic way in cultivated and fertilized farms throughout Nepal. The most popular farming areas are  - Taplejung ( ताप्लेजुंग), Sankhuwasabha District (संखुवासभा),  Panchthar (पांचथर),  Ilam (इलाम), Tehrathum District (तेह्रथुम),  Dhankuta (धनकुटा),  Solukhumbu (सोलुखुम्बु),  Lamjung (लम्जुंग), Syangja (स्यांग्जा), Parbat District (पर्बत), and Baglung (बाग्लुंग) in Nepal. Even though its farms have extended into Western Nepal, output from eastern region, which contributes around 90 percent in total production, largely dominates the market. Nepali farmers usually harvest Black Cardamom from mid-August to November. 

The following pictures were taken at the अलैंचीको बगैचा (Black Cardamom Garden).  The individual pods were hand-picked from the plant, cleaned, and washed. Then, they were left to dry in the sun. Once they are completely dried, they are stored in a sealed container.
Just returned from a trip to a private Alainchi Farm - these pictures are hand-picked reddish-brown Nepali Cardamom,  an extremely flavorful, aromatic ancient spice.  They are picked before they ripen fully to avoid the pods to split or crack open.   The pod is oval shaped and dark brown, tough and leathery with deep wrinkles.  Each pod contains several moist brown seeds that are sticky, flavorful, and once crushed, emit a pleasant smoky aroma with a hint of camphor.
 Close-up picture of freshly harvested reddish-brown Nepali Alainchi - When I was growing up in Kathmandu, I had seen Alainchi plants at my grandfather's garden next to a water fountain. I have a good memory of  seeing a large bush like plants with pointed leaves and cardamom pods growing near the base of the plant in clusters.  As a child, I used to split open the pods and remove the fibrous coverings and separate the seeds. Then, slowly chew the small, dark-brown, sticky and moist seeds. Now, I am reminiscing about it.  On this trip, I was so happy to find the fresh pods and tried again and found it very refreshing, sweet-savory and enjoyed a camphor-like flavor.  
In the above picture, fresh reddish-brown cardamom is being sun-dried in a round multipurpose nanglo, which is a circular tray made out of bamboo.

Nepal Cardamom: Highly Prized Spice Crop used both as spice and flavoring agent - Botanical Name: Amomum subulatum Roxb.  Family: Zingiberaceae

Here are some of the useful and informative links about Nepal Cardamom.  In my previous blog, I have posted some information of Black Cardamom, please read to learn more about it hereGernot Katzers spice page, Wikipedia, The Black Cardamom of Nepal, Spices & Medicinal Herbs, Badi Elaichi.

Here is a picture of fully dried Black Cardamom Pods serving in a decorative container for  after-dinner chew -  a symbol of Nepali hospitality.
In the above picture, freshly picked large black cardamom looks like this (before drying), and the picture below is the dried black cardamom. 

Image of Black Cardamom Plants - perennial bush of the ginger family
Nepalese chew black cardamom seeds to freshen the breath and palate.  It is also used as a breath freshener after a spicy heavy meals.  Many Nepalese use this spice as a home remedy for digestive disorders and considered beneficial to teeth and gums.

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  1. Fresh alainchi taste really nice, sweet and aromatic. Thanks for photos.

  2. Hello, I really like your pictures. Can I re-use it for a publication on the national export strategy of Large Cardamom. Please write at marty@intracen.org if you are interested.

    1. Thank you for stopping and checking my blog. Yes, you can use my pictures. I am sure you will mention the source of my pictures.

  3. Would you like to inform me where can we learn cardamom farming or where cardamom farming program is taught

    1. Unfortunately, I just don't know where cardamom farming is taught....good luck!

  4. Hi, do you have idea about the import duty and other taxes while importing Black Cardamom from Nepal to India?

    1. Sorry, I do not know anything about tax, import duty etc....please check with proper authority.