I saw an episode of Ainsley' Carribean kitchen where Ainsley Harriot had a chat with a lady in Grenada about cinnamon spice. The lady said "we put it on toast, we drink it , we put in eggnog, milkshake; whatever. We drink cinnamon tea in the morning; if we have tummy ache or a fever, we drink cinnamon. People who have diabetes also drink it everyday to help manage their blood sugar levels. " This sums up the wonderful cinnamon spice; which is known for both its culinary and medicinal uses.
Cinnamon is one of those spices that is suited to both sweet and savoury recipes, which makes it a kitchen cupboard staple in many parts of the world. The delicate, sweet and aromatic fragrance and flavour of cinnamon combined with its warming quality lend itself many dishes and bakes. Cinnamon is typically associated with autumn and winter; this is because of its warming characteristics, which a lot of people find comforting in cold weather.
The sweet taste and aroma of cinnamon is due to the presence of cinnamaldehye, which is the main constituent of its bark oil. Other chemicals like eugenol and linalool also contribute to the taste and aroma of this spice.
Where Does Cinnamon Come From
Cinnamon spice comes from the peeled, dried and rolled bark of several varieties of trees of the genus cinnamomum, which are grown is South East Asia. The inner barks of these trees are rolled by hand daily to make the outside edges come together. This is done until they become dry and brittle. This is known as quill. The quills are cut into sticks or ground into powders, depending on the application.
Cinnamon is often confused with cassia which is from a tree in in the same genus as cinnamon. They are different plants, but with similarities. Cinnamon has lighter brown colour than cassia. Cassia is cheaper; and has hotter and stronger aroma taste due to a higher content of cinnamaldehyde Due to the presence of similar volatile compounds in both cassia and cinnamon; cassia is often passed on as cinnamon. In fact; in some parts of the world like US, more than 80% of the cinnamon sold is actually cassia.
Origin of Cinnamon
Ancient Egyptians used cinnamon as a flavouring and for embalming as far back as 1600 bc. There was evidence of cinnamon being used as a spice in Chinese writings from 4000 bc. There were also references to cinnamon being added to anointing oil in the old testament; so, it is a very ancient spice.
Cinnamon was introduced to Europe by the Arab traders who did not disclose the source to the Europeans; to protect their source of living. The Portuguese discovered cinnamon in Ceylon, present day Sri Lanka. It was so expensive that it was used for trading, and wars were fought over it. The Portuguese invaded Sri-Lanka, mainly because of cinnamon.
By 1800, cinnamon had become more accessible and cassia had already been discovered; which brought down the prices of cinnamon.
Sri-Lanka and Seychelles are the major producers of cinnamon bark; while China, Indonesia and Vietnam are major producers of the cassia.
How To Store Cinnamon
Store cinnamon in a cool place, away from moisture and heat. It is best to store in airtight container; and this applies to all spices. Cinnamon sticks will last for up to a year, when stored properly, while ground cinnamon will last for a few months.
Health Benefits Of Cinnamon
Asides from it culinary use, cinnamon also been used for medicinal purposes for centuries. It is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine to cure digestive problems; it is also used in conjunction with other warming spices to cure cold. Scientific studies have shown that cinnamon helps to lower blood sugar, which helps in the management of Type 2 diabetes. There is also some evidence to show that cinnamon helps to reduce blood pressure.
Cinnamon is very rich in antioxidants, which protects against cell damage; and therefore diseases. It is important to note that cassia does not contain as much antioxidant as cinnamon. Consuming too much of cassia could have adverse effects on health due to the presence of coumarin, which could be toxic to the liver.
How To Use Cinnamon
Cinnamon enhances spiciness in food and pairs well with other warms spices like cloves, ginger and black pepper.
Care needs to be taken when cooking cinnamon, as cooking for too long could leave a bitter taste. This is because the long application of heat causes vaporisation of the volatile content; which are responsible for the delicate aroma of the spices. You are then left with woody content; and the bitterness becomes more apparent.
Cinnamon spice goes well with, and elevates the taste of breakfast; and I’m not talking about “curiously cinnamon” and other high sugar children’s cinnamon-based breakfast cereals in the market. Add a sprinkle of cinnamon to your porridge or granola for a wonderfully flavoured breakfast. This spiced bulgur wheat porridge recipe combines cinnamon with nutmeg and allspice for an aromatic, delicious meal.
Cinnamon is one of the most important spices associated with baking, and can be added to breads, pastries, pudding, desserts and baked fruits like apples. Cinnamon is typically associated with baked goods like cinnamon rolls and churros and baklava.
Cinnamon is also used to spiced drinks like cordials, tea and coffee. It has particular affinity for chocolate which makes it great for chocolate drinks. It is one of the main constituents of the popular “chai” tea and coffee.
One area where cinnamon can impart delightful flavours and aroma; but most people are not aware of, is in savoury dishes. Cinnamon works very well on its own, as well as with other spices to enhance savoury dishes. It is an important constituent of some of the popular spice mixes that we have today; like, jerk seasoning, chai, five spice, ras el hanout, berbere etc. An example is this jerk pasta, where cinnamon was used along with other jerk seasoning to take the pasta taste to a different level.
In Indian cooking, cinnamon sticks are used, along with other spices, in a process called tempering. Tempering is where whole spices are fried in oil for a short period of time; so they can impart their flavour into the oil. This leads to a more flavourful dish.
Some other recipes using cinnamon are;