An exotic variety of green cardamom, often known as the ‘Queen of Spices’ has been cultivated in Coorg, on the eastern slopes of the Western Ghats on the Karnataka – Kerala state border for centuries. This native variety known locally as malay yalakki is a variety of the Malabar category and is grown by a sizeable number of small and marginal farmers in over 11,000 hectares of land.
Though this yelaki is grown in Coorg, Chikmagalur, Hassan and Uttara Kannada districts of Karnataka, the aroma, taste and volatile oil content of the variety grown in Coorg is far superior than any found in the country. The green cardamom variety (Elettaria cardamomum) thrives in the evergreen forests of Coorg that is at an elevation of 3000 to 5000 feet above mean sea level.
Green cardamom is a shade loving crop and the warm and humid climatic conditions prevalent here with well-distributed rainfall and loamy soils rich in organic matter is conducive for the cultivation of this variety.
Planting of cardamom is done after the Southwest monsoon. Cardamom starts bearing capsules within 2 to 3 years after planting the seedlings. The fruits mature in about 120 days after flowering. Capsules are harvested from August and continues till December to January with mature capsules picked in the first round in August and mature and semi-mature capsules picked in the second round.
The capsules after harvest are washed thoroughly in water and then dried in kilns. Curing is essential to bring down the moisture level of the capsules and maintain its green colour. The produce is graded based on colour, size, weight and chemical constituents. Normally, the colour of this variety of cardamom varies from pale yellow to green to brown. It may be having a ribbed or smooth skin and is around 5.5 to 8.5mm in diameter. It has a camphoraceous odour with a harsh taste and high amounts of 1,8-Cineole and α- terpinyl acetate.
It is the high volatile oil content in the Coorg green cardamom that sets it apart from other native varieties. The average produce in quarter of an acre is estimated to be around 10kg of dry cardamom. The total production from Coorg accounts for about 40.5 percent of the total production of Karnataka. This is a highly labour-intensive crop and employs a large workforce comprising of women (71 percent) and men.
This ancient spice received the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2008.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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