BERKELEY, Calif.--Indian restaurants traditionally serve little silver bowls of spices after a meal. The mix usually includes cardamom, which people in the Middle East have chewed since ancient times. Now researchers have found that chewing cardamom may do more than refresh the mouth and mask bad breath with its strong flavor--it may help prevent cavities, too.
Since many common spices historically have doubled as bacteria-fighting folk remedies, chemist Isao Kubo and his colleagues at the University of California at Berkeley decided to investigate the properties of cardamom seed.
They isolated ten active ingredients contained in the seed's oil and tested them against the bacteria responsible for causing cavities. Nine of the ingredients were effective.
It seems Arabs, who have long chewed cardamom like tobacco, may have been on to something: Chewing cardamom, says Kubo, releases enough oil to help control the mouth's cavity-causing bacteria.
And for those of us who don't "chew"? Kubo says cardamom could be a good natural ingredient for toothpastes and mouthwashes: "It has a nice strong flavor and smell." But additional tests need to be done on humans to determine just what concentrations of cardamom would be effective against tooth decay in such products.
Cavities may not be the only health problem cardamom can prevent. Kubo also tested cardamom oil against the bacteria that cause dandruff and acne--and found the strong spice wards away those microorganisms as well.
That's another thing ancient peoples of India and Saudi Arabia seem to have known: They used cardamom to make soaps and shampoos.
PHOTO (COLOR): Silver Bowls of Spices