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Cardamom (large) - description and Cultivation


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Cardamom (large)

1       Introduction and description

Cardamom are the dried seed capsules of a small group of species or plants belonging to the family Zingiberaceae which contain seeds possessing a pleasant characteristic aroma and flavour. These are broadly grouped into two categories:

   Small cardamom – popularly known as Chhota Elaichi (Elettaria cardamomum)orthe true cardamom. It is also known as ‘Queen of Spices’.

   Large cardamom – Bada Elaichi (Aframomum and Amomum species)

Amomum subulatum Roxb. is the greater Indian or Nepal cardamom which is also called large cardamom. It is a native of the eastern Himalayan region. The presence of several wild  relatives  viz.,  A.  delbatum,  A.  aromaticum,  A.  kinger,  A.  lingriformi,  and  A. corynostachium and the tremendous variability within the cultivated species support the view of its origin in Sikkim (Subba 1984, Rao et al. 1993, Singh and Singh 1996).

The   order   Zingiberales   (formerly   known  as   Scitamineae)   to   which   the   family Zingiberaceae belongs, appears to have originated as wild plants in the tropical evergreen forests. Zingiberaceae, the largest family of this order, is found throughout the tropics but is  predominantly  Asian.  This  family  has  provided  important  spices  which  are  mostly aromatic,  40  genera  and  900  species  being  recognized.  The  economically  important species  which  have  established  themselves  as  aromatic  spices  are  the  genus  Zingiber

(ginger),   Curcuma   (turmeric),   Alpinia   (galanga),   Kaempferia,   all   representing rhizomatous spices,  and  Elettaria  (small  cardamom),  Amomum and  Aframomum  (large cardamoms) representing seed spices (Anon. 1977).

There   has   been   controversy   over   the   grouping   of   cardamom.   After   detailed deliberations  the  ISO  (International  Standards  Organization)  has  officially  recognized nine species under three main groups (Pruthi 1977):

Group I: Elettaria cardamomum

Group II: 4 species of Aframomum

(a) A. augustifolium (Sonn) K.Schum – Madagascar cardamom

(b) A. hanburyi K.Schum – Cameroon cardamom

(c) A. korarima (pereira) Engler – Korarima cardamom

(d) A. melegueta (Roscol) K.Schum – Grains of paradise or Guinea grains. Group   III: 4 species of Amomum

(a) A. aromaticum Roxburgh – Bengal cardamom

(b) A. kepulaga Spraque et – Round cardamom Burkill, Syn. A. cardamom Roxburgh

– or Chester cardamom or Siam cardamom.

(c) A. krervanh pierre et Gagnipain – Cambodian cardamom

(d) A. subulatum Roxburgh – Greater Indian cardamom, Nepal cardamom or large cardamom

The  Amomum  species  are  known  in  the  North  East  Indian  and  South  East  Asian countries,  while  the  Aframomum  species  are  known  in  the  African  regions  of  Sierra Leone,  Guinea  Coast,  Madagascar  and  Tanzania.  The  fruits  of  the  Amomum  and Aframomum are much larger in size in comparison with Elettaria cardamomum and it is easy to distinguish them, but the seed size and anatomy are similar in all the three genera. In this chapter, only Amomum subulatum Roxburgh is taken into consideration as large cardamom as it is being cultivated  in a larger extent and also due to its position in the trade. From now on, whatever we describe here relates only to Amomum subulatum Roxb.

(unless otherwise specified). This  species is cultivated  in  swampy places  along the  sides  of  mountain  streams  in

Nepal, Bengal, Sikkim and Assam (eastern Himalayas) and forms one of the cash crops of eastern India. The plants are usually grown along jhoras (small springs), in moist and shady  sides  of  mountain  streams  and  along  the  hilly  slopes,  usually  at  an  elevation  of

765  to  1675  metres  above  the  mean  sea  level.  The  plant  is  a  perennial  herb  having subterranean  rhizomes  which  give  rise  to  leafy  shoots  and  spikes.  The  plant  matures during the third year of its growth and its height ranges from 1.5 to 3.0 m. Leafy shoots are  formed  by  long  sheath-like  stalks  encircling  one  another.  The  leaves  are  green  or dark  green,  glabrous  on  both  surfaces  with  acuminate  apex.  Inflorescence  is  a  dense spike on a short  peduncle bearing  40 to  50 flower buds in an acropetal  sequence.  The fruit  is  a  trilocular  many-seeded  capsule.  The  capsule  wall  is  echinated  and  is  reddish brown to dark pink (Rao et al. 1993a). Harvesting is usually carried out during August to October.

Dried  large  cardamom  capsules  are  on  an  average  25  mm  long,  oval  to  globose; greyish  brown  to  dark  red  brown.  The  fruit  contains  40–50  seeds,  held  together  by  a viscous  sugary  pulp.  Though  the  fruits  are  clearly  identifiable  by  their  larger  size  and differences in shapes compared with small cardamom, the seeds are of nearly the same size  as  those  of  true  cardamom.  Histological  features,  sizes  and  orientation  of  cells  in different layers of husk and seed have been described by Berger (1964, 1965).

There  are  three  popular  varieties  (cultivars)  of  large  cardamom  in  Sikkim,  viz., Ramsey, Golsey and Sawney. The varietal differences were described by Gyatso et al.

(1980), Subba (1984) and Rao et al. (1993) (see Table 1). In addition to these popular varieties, there are several other varieties such as Ramla, Chivey Ramsey, Garday Seto Ramsey,  Ramnag,  Madhusay,  Seto  Golsey,  Slant  Golsey,  Red  Sawney,  Green  Sawney and  Mingney  (Gupta  and  Borethakur  1986).  Rao  et  al.  (1993b)  reported  a  promising variety  Barlanga  from  higher  altitudes  with  desirable  high  yielding  characters  like maximum ratio of mature tillers to productive spikes (1:3.6) and bold size capsules (with

50 to 80 seeds). Surveys carried out by Biswas et al. (1986) revealed that Ramsey and Ramla are well suited to higher altitudes, Golsey for lower altitudes and Sawney widely adaptable to different elevations.

Table 1    Characteristics of different varieties of large cardamom Character/variety           Ramsey                            Golsey                     Sawney Altitude   High          Low to middle Middle Extent of cultivation    60% 30%                        7%

Status                   Tall, vigorous          Less vigorous      Tall, vigorous wide clump with erect         bent,

growth                     leafy stem            downwards bearing stout

upright leaves

Clumps medium

Stem colour         Maroonish               Greenish to          Pinkish with with dense     maroonish        dark green foliage                                        foliage

Flowers                Yellowish and small,                           Yellowish  Yellowish

corolla tip with pink                            orange       with pink tinge at tinge at base                                            base of corolla

Capsules              Smaller   (16 to        Bold to round      Medium bold

30 seeds)                 (40 to 50 seeds)  (30 to 40 seeds) Essential oil        1 to 1.8%        2.3 to 5%                   1.8 to 2.5%

Shade requirement                              Deep shade          Less shade Moderate to deep shade

Susceptibility       Susceptible              Tolerant to           Susceptible to to diseases  to Chirkey and Chirkey and                       viral diseases Foorkey at                     Foorkey but

lower                       susceptible altitudes   to leaf spots

Source: Rao et al. (1993a)

2       Chemical structure

Large cardamom has the following chemical composition. The composition varies with variety,  region  and  age  of the  product. The fruit  on average  comprises  70% seeds  and

30% skin (Govindarajan 1982, Pruthi 1993). Moisture       8.49% Protein                                                6.0% Total ash          4.01% Starch   43.21% Crude fibre                             22.0% Non-volatile ether extract      2.31% Volatile ether extract              3.0% Alcohol extract            7.02% Volatile extract                                     2.8% Water soluble ash        2.15% Alkalinity of water soluble ash               0.90% Ash insoluble in acid 0.42% Volatile oil                                                2.80%

The volatile oil present in the seeds of large cardamom is one of the principal constituents responsible  for  providing  the  typical  odour.  The  essential  oil  is  obtained  on  steam distillation  of  crushed  seeds  and  yields  2.5%  dark  brown  coloured  mobile  liquid  with

cineole-like  aroma,  having  the  following  physical  constants:  specific  gravity  at  29sC,

0.9142,  refractive  index  at  29sC,  1,460,  optical  rotation  in  chloroform  18sC  (Pruthi


The  highest  volatile  oil  content  was  recorded  as  3.32%  in  variety  Golsey  Dwarf, whereas  the  lowest  was  1.95%  in  variety  White  Ramna  (Gupta  1986).  Quantitative chromatographic  analysis  of  the  composition  of  distilled  essential  oil  was  reported previously by Nigam and Purohit (1960) and by Lawrence (1970). The major constituent of  large  cardamom  essential  oil  is  1,8-cineole  (65–80%)  while  the  content  of  terpenyl acetate  is low (traces to five per cent). The monoterpene hydrocarbon content is in the range  of  5–17%  of  which  lamonene,  sabeinene,  the  terpinenes  and  the  pinenes  are significant components. The terpinols comprise approximately five to seven per cent of the oil. The high cineole  and low terpenyl  acetate probably account for the very harsh aroma of this spice in comparison with that of true cardamom (Pruthi 1993).

3       The trade in large cardamom

The  trade  in  Amomum  species  is  largely  confined  within  Asia,  with  only  very  small volumes  entering  the  Middle  East,  European  and  North  American  markets.  Mainland China has been and remains by far the principal importer. Large cardamom by smaller volumes have been regularly imported by a number of Arab countries as well as Pakistan, Vietnam,  Korea  and  Japan.  Until  1970,  the  major  supplier  was  Thailand,  while  minor supplies  emanated  from  Laos,  Cambodia  (Kampuchea),  Nepal  and  India.  Since  1970

Nepal has rapidly increased exports and now matches Thailand in importance.

Figures on overall production of large cardamom are scarce. The global production of large cardamom during 1985–86 was estimated at 7850 tonnes (Anon. 1988). In 1997–98 the  annual  production  of  large  cardamom  in  India  was  in  the  range  of  5000  to  5400 tonnes.  The  bulk  of  this  is  consumed  in  the  country  and  only  one  third,  about  1700 tonnes, is exported outside India mainly to Pakistan, UAE and Afghanistan (Anon. 1998).

4       Cultivation

The main conditions for growing large cardamom are:

   Temperature range (sC): max. 14–33; min. 4–22

   Season: April–September

   Annual precipitation: 200–250 cm (well distributed throughout the year)

   Altitude range: 765–1675 m above MSL

   Morphology: 5 distinct types

   Average life of a plant: 20 years

   Bearing period: max. 6–10 years and steady yield throughout

   Flowering and fruiting: four months from April to July

   Harvesting: September–January; peak period – late October to mid December.

The flowering season starts in May and continues up to August. It takes about  four months for the fruits to mature. Harvesting is done by collecting panicles containing ripe fruits with the help of a special chisel-shaped narrow knife, which is specially made for this  purpose.  Harvesting  is  done  once  a  year,  and  because  of  this  there  will  be  some immature  fruits  in  the  harvested  lot.  After  harvesting,  the  individual  capsules  are

separated from spikes by hand. At the time of harvesting, old sterile dried shoots which do not bear fruits are also removed, by the same knife, locally known as ‘Elaichi Chhuri’. During the third year, when first flowering starts in new plantations, the yield of dry fruits is negligible (25 kg or so per hactare). In subsequent years, every year the yield increases until it reaches a maximum in the sixth and seventh year. Yield at this stage varies greatly from 0.3 to 1.0 tonnes of dry cardamom per hectare according to the management  and growing conditions of plantations. For one or two years the maximum yield is maintained and then it starts declining to a considerably lower level by the twelfth year. The rate and extent of yield decline  again is very much dependent on the management  and growing conditions.  Some  well-managed  plantations  can  yield  profitably  even  up  to  20  years

(Pruthi 1993).

The capsules are fleshy while harvesting with 72 to 85% of moisture content and the outer layer of the capsules also echinated that can be removed by rubbing after curing. The normal conversion ratio of green to dry capsules is 4:1 to 5:1 which varies according to size and method of curing (Roy 1988). Retention of maroon colour of the capsules is a positive index of quality (Karibasappa 1987, Rao et al. 1993a).

5       Post-harvest handling

Fruits  are  separated  out  of  the  harvested  panicles  for  drying  and  curing.  Harvested capsules are dried on a mud-plastered threshing floor for seven to ten days, and sold in markets. This  contains about  50% moisture  and  dried  again by traders to  avoid  fungal contamination. Mainly three types of curing systems are available:

   Traditional   bhatti’ system. In this system, a load of about 200–250 kg capsules are heaped per m2  in a 25–70 cm thick bed, and heated directly over a fire by firewood. The bhatti temperature during drying is 100sC and the drying operation stretches from two to three days. The capsules dried in this system are dark and have a smoky flavour because of direct exposure to heat and smoke. The volatile losses are as high as 35%. The original colour of the capsules is also lost and they cannot be stored for a long time (Roy 1988, Rao et al. 1993a). The Central Food Technological Research Institute

(CFTRI)  has  suggested  a  number  of  modifications  to  improve  the  colour  of  the

‘bhatti’-cured capsules (CFTRI 1994).

   Flue  pipe  curing  houses.  In  this  method  flue  pipes  are  laid  inside  a  room  (curing house) and connected to a furnace installed outside. Fresh cardamom  is spread over wire meshes fixed above the flue pipes. This is an indirect system of drying and smoke does not come into contact with the produce at any stage. This type of drier resulted in early drying and gave better quality capsules, including a better colour (Annamalai et al. 1988, Karibasappa 1987, Rao et al. 1993a).

   CFTRI system. The Central Food Technological Research Institute, (CFTRI), Mysore, has designed and developed a low cost natural convection dryer. In this system the flue ducts are arranged in double-deck fashion and connected in series to the furnace. The convection current passes upward through the bed of capsules. Thermal efficiency is much better, the  cost of drying  cheaper,  the  quality of the  product  superior and  the annual product output higher, than in the case of a curing house or any other existing system.

The husk of fresh capsules was found to contain 0.49% to 1.16% of anthocyanins. The dried  husk  contained  0.05  to  0.39%  anthocyanins  indicating  the  loss  of  colour  during

drying. Treatment with diluted HCl solution (0.025%) of the freshly harvested capsules, improved  the  colour  after  drying  as  revealed  by  better  retention  of  the  anthocyanin content of 461.43 mg/100 g as compared to freshly harvested ones that contain 1159 mg/

100 g (CFTRI 1994).

Large cardamom is usually stored in bulk on bamboo matting spread on the ground or packed immediately into gunny bags which may then be stored in plywood tea-chests. A key issue in storage is maintaining the right level of moisture. The moisture content of capsules has to be brought down to 12–14% to achieve a longer shelf-life (CFTRI 1994). Fully  dried  cardamom  tends  to  split  and  also  loses  its  natural  taste  to  some  extent, whereas excessive moisture reduces its value. A report by CFTRI, Mysore (1994) states that large cardamom stored over a period of six months tend to lose 4–20% by weight. Insect infestation also reduced the volatile oil content from 2.99% to 1.00%, particularly as a moisture content of 13–15% was found conducive for insect breeding. CFTRI has recommended the use of fumigants like methyl bromide (16 g/m3), phosphine (1.5 g/m3), ethyl formate (300 g/m3) to control all the stages of insect infestation without affecting the quality. CFTRI also recommends the usage of hessian cloth over wrapping of bags, in order to avoid the possibility of direct contamination of the products with the pesticides. Of  several  methods  available  for  producing  essential  oil,  steam  distillation  is  ideal using  powdered  seeds  for  commercial  level  production.  The  essential  oil  obtained  by steam distillation of dry cardamom seeds ranged from 1.5 to 2.5%. An average yield of oleoresin of 4% was obtained by blending essential oil and resin fractions in the ratio of

1:1. Chromatographic tests of the brown resinous residue obtained after steam distillation of large cardamom  seeds  indicate  the  presence  of triglycerides  and  steroid  compounds

(CFTRI  1994).  Hydrodistillation  has  proved  to  be  unsuitable  as  it  generates  foam  and leads to charring inside the distillation unit.

To  improve  the  flavour  of  the  large  cardamom  oil,  1,8-cineole,  which  produces  an undesirable odour, can be removed by fractionation, and the oil blended with                           -terpinyl acetate, linalyl acetate and genanyl acetate. As an alternative, the essential oil has been blended  with  small  cardamom  oil  (10%)  and         -terpinyl  acetate  to  obtain  the  pleasant smell  of  small  cardamom.  This  method  has  the  additional  advantage  of  a  threefold increase in the volume of final product (CFTRI 1994).

6       Main uses

Due  to  its  pleasant  aromatic  odour,  large  cardamom  is  used  for  flavouring  various vegetables and meat preparation in Indian dishes. It is also used as a flavouring agent in confectionery, hot or sweet pickles and in beverages. Large cardamom seed and powder are  used  as  essential  ingredients  in  mixed  preparation  and  spice  masala  mixtures.  The ripened fruits are considered to be a delicacy and are eaten raw by inhabitants of Sikkim and Darjeeling during September and October months (Gyasto et al. 1980, Gupta et al.

1984). Large cardamom is also credited with curative properties in Ayurvedic and Unani systems of medicine (Mukherjee 1972, Singh 1978, Anon. 1994)

Essential   oil,   oleoresin,   encapsulated   flavour,   cardamom   cola,   large   cardamom flavoured  biscuits  and  large  cardamom  flavoured  liquors  are  some  of  the  products developed  for  diversifying  the  uses  of  large  cardamom  (CFTRI  1994).  Encapsulated flavour is prepared by spray drying a blended solution of large cardamom oil and gum acacia solution. Cardamom cola is prepared by blending caramel acid, large cardamom flavour and carbonating the mixture. Volatile oil of large cardamom, with a mixture of

lemon, lime and ginger flavours, has been blended with distilled rectified spirit to create a liquor product which is compatible with other liquors.

7       Quality issues

The quality of large cardamom depends mainly on:

   external  appearance,  which  provides  visual  perception  of  quality  as  influenced  by colour, uniformity of size, shape, consistency and texture

   flavour,   which   is   influenced   by   composition   of   aromatic   compounds.   Cineole contributes to pungency while terpinyl acetate  towards pleasant aroma (Karibasappa


A  draft  International  Standards  Organisation  (ISO)  proposal  on  large  cardamom  was prepared by Spices Board, India in conjunction with CFTRI, Mysore and submitted to the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS). The draft proposal for BIS adoption reads as follows: Capsules

1   Extraneous matter              Not more than 5% by weight

2   Insect damaged capsules   Not more than 5% by weight

3   Moisture                             Not more than 14% by weight

4   Volatile oil (%) ml/100 g  Not less than 1.5%

5   Colour should be natural and capsules free from added colours


1   Moisture                             Not more than 13% by weight

2   Volatile oil                         Not less than 2% by weight

3   Total ash                            Not more than 5% by weight

4   Acid insoluble ash             Not more than 2% by weight

5   Extraneous matter              Not more than 2% by weight

6   The seeds should be free from moulds and insects

7   Insect damaged seeds        Not more than 2% by weight

8   Colour and flavour            Should be natural and characteristic

8       References

Readers interested in obtaining further background information on large cardamom are referred  to  the  accounts  by  Parry  (1918),  Winton  and  Winton  (1939),  Viechoever  and Sung   (1937),   Bouquet   and   Kerharo   (1950),   Ferrara   (1957),   Guenther   (1952), Gildemeister and Hoffmann (1956), Berger (1964), Kulkarni and Pruthi (1967), Melchior and Kastner (1974), Singh et al. (1978), Govindarajan et al. (1982), Rao et al. (1993a) and Singh and Singh (1996).

ANNAMALAI,  J K,  PATIL,  R J  and  JOHN  T D  (1988),  Improved  curing  methods  for  large cardamom, Spice India, 4, 5–11.

ANON.  (1977), Zinziberaceae. In Encyclopaedia Britannica Macropaedia, 15th edn, 19,


ANON.  (1988), Status paper on Spices. Spices Board, Cochin, India, pp. 43–5.

ANON.  (1994),  Indian  Medicinal  Plants  –  a  compendium  of  500  species.  Vol  I.  Orient

Longman  Publishers.  (Eds  Arya,  Vaidyasala,  Kottakkal),  Coll  No.  AVS  2409,  pp.


ANON.  (1998), Spices Statistics. Spices Board. Kochi, India, p. 204.

BERGER  F  (1964,  1965)  Neue  Erkenninisse  auf  dem  Gebiet  der  kardamonen  forschung

Tiel 1–5, Gardian 64: 836–9, 885–8 922–4, 956–61; 65: 24–7.

BISWAS A K, GUPTA R K  and BHUTIA D T  (1986), Characteristics of different plant parts of large cardamom, Cardamom, 19(2), 7–11.

BOUQUET A  and KERHARO J  (1950), Les vegtaux condiments de l’Afrique du Nard dans l’aliminataon, la therapeutique et la magie, Acta Tropica, 7, 237–74

CFTRI    (1994),   Studies   on   post   harvest   technology,   product   development   and diversification   of   end   uses   of   large   cardamoms.   Consolidated   project   report submitted by Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore, p. 90.

FERRARA A (1957), Technologia della spezie: cardamom, Riv. Agric.Sub-trop. e Trop., 51,


GILDEMEISTER  E   and  HOFFMANN  FR   (1956),  Die  Aetherisehen  Oele.  Vol  IV.  Berlin, Academic Verlag.

GOVINDARAJAN   V S,   SANTHI   NARASIMHAN,   RAGHUVEER   K G   and   LEWIS   Y S   (1982), Cardamom – production, technology, chemistry, and quality. CRC  Critical reviews in food science and nutrition, pp. 227–326.

GUENTHER E  (1952), The Essential Oils, Vol. V. New York: D Van Nostrand Co.

GUPTA P N (1986), Studies on capsule morphology of large cardamom cultivars (Amomum subulatum Roxb), J. Plantation Crops, 16, 371–5.

GUPTA P N, NAGNI A, MISRA L N and NIGAM M C (1984), Gas chromatographic evaluation of the essential oils of different strains of Amomum subulatum growing wild in Sikkim, Soundrdruck aus Perfumerie und Kosmetic, 65, 528–9.

GYATSO K, TSHERING P and BASNET B S (1980), Large cardamom of Sikkim. Department of

Agriculture, Govt. of Sikkim, p. 8.

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