The Science of CinnamonJun 25, 2023
Cinnamon! Aahh … sweet, aromatic and warming. A great addition to recipes, including spicy main dishes, fruity desserts, and beverages such as lattes and hot mulled wine.
(And if you missed the post last week on Ginger, check it out here.)
Cinnamon is a powerful spice that has been used medicinally around the world for thousands of years. It is still used daily in many cultures because of the widespread cinnamon benefits, not to mention its distinctly sweet, warming taste and ease of use in recipes.
Cinnamon is a small evergreen tree in the laurel family, found in the wild growing in wet tropical forests. Cinnamon spice is actually made from the bark of the Cinnamomum verum (or Cinnamomum zeylanicum) tree. The bark contains several special compounds that are responsible for its many health-promoting properties, including cinnamaldehyde, cinnamic acid and cinnamate.
Cinnamon is high in antioxidants, it can help relieve inflammation and can help stabilize blood sugar. It is also thought to be protective of brain and heart health.
The cinnamon tree is grown around the world, and approximately 250 species of the spice have been identified so far.
However, there are two main types of cinnamon spice used today, which actually come from two different, but related, trees.
- Ceylon cinnamon, which is sometimes labelled as true or real cinnamon. Ceylon comes from trees grown in areas like Sri Lanka and Thailand that are rarer — therefore Ceylon is more expensive and harder to find in stores.
- Cassia cinnamon, which is more widely available and commonly used. Conversely, cinnamon of the cassia variety (also called Saigon or Chinese cinnamon) comes from trees grown in China and Vietnam, and is less expensive and more widely available.
Eight facts about Cinnamon:
- Cinnamomum Verum
REGION OF CULTIVATION
- Cinnamon is native to the island of Sri Lanka, and now also cultivated in Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia and the islands of the Seychelles.
METHOD OF CULTIVATION
- Trees are coppiced at 18-24 months of age and the stump covered, causing it to grow like a bush. New shoots are removed at the base and stripped for their bark every two years.
MAJOR FLAVOUR COMPOUND
- Dried bark of tender shoots.
- Inner layers of bark are dried in the sun and rolled together by hand into long “quills’, which are graded and cut.
- In perfumery and as a natural antiseptic.
- Ground spice quickly loses its flavour. Buy it in small quantities, keep it in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, and use it within 6 months.
- Cinnamon sticks will keep their flavour for up to a year. Lighter brown, thinner, more fragile sticks are higher quality.
In the kitchen
Cinnamon does not itself taste sweet, but enhances the perception of sweetness in other ingredients, making it perfect for sweet bakes and desserts, as well as drawing out sweet notes in savoury dishes.
Releasing the Flavour
The taste components in cinnamon need time to escape from its woody matrix, and the critical flavour compound, cinnamaldehyde, does not dissolve in water.
- Add early in cooking to give flavours time to suffuse the dish.
- Fat and alcohol will help disperse cinnamaldehyde.
- Steam is also a carrier of cinnamaldehyde, so boil vigorously with a lid on the pan.
Cooking with Cinnamon
Mix cinnamon powder with sugar and scatter over peaches, figs, apples and pears before baking or grilling, or add to the batter for a plum or cherry clafoutis.
Tomatoes and Eggplants
A cinnamon-infused tomato sauce makes an excellent topping for baked eggplants.
Add a stick or two of cinnamon to lamb tagine and beef stew, or the stock of a fragrant Vietnamese beef pho noodle soup.
Experiment with cinnamon as a flavouring poultry recipes.
Spice blends to try:
ONE - Mulling Spice - Warm red wine or cider is infused with this collection of spices and drunk at winter celebrations
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 6 cloves
- 6 allspice berries
- ½ nutmeg
- 2 bay leaves
Add all spices to a pan of red wine or cider and heat to a simmer point. Add sugar or honey, orange and/or lemon slices, and rum or gin to taste. This blend is enough for 2 bottles of red wine or 1.75 litres (3 pints) of cider.
TWO - Jamaican Jerk Rub - A dry seasoning used to marinate chicken, fish and beef. Invented in Jamaica and adapted around the Caribbean.
- 2 tsp allspice
- 1 tsp whole black pepper
- ½ tsp cloves
- 1 tsp chipotle or cayenne powder
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 2 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- 2 tsp brown sugar
- 2 tsp sea salt
Grind the whole spices and combine with the rest of the ingredients. Flavour intensity will depend on marinating time.
THREE - Burmese Garam Masala - India’s most famous spice mix is also popular in Myanmar. Use as the basis for spicing a dish, or like a seasoning at the end of cooking.
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 tsp cardamom pods
- 1 tsp cloves
- 1-inch (2.5cm) cinnamon stick
- 2 star anise
Dry-roast all the spices in a frying pan, over low heat, until fragrant. Leave to cool before grinding into fine powder.
High Protein Cinnamon and Apple Oats
- 1 cup Water
- 1/2 cup Oats
- 1/4 cup Vanilla Protein Powder
- 1 tbsp Ground Flax Seed
- 1/8 tsp Cinnamon
- 1 Apple (diced or stewed ahead of time)
- Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the oats. Reduce to a steady simmer and cook, stirring occasionally for about seven to eight minutes or until oats are tender and most of the water is absorbed.
- Stir in the protein powder, ground flax seed, and cinnamon.
- Transfer the cooked oats to a bowl and top with the apple. Enjoy!
Leftovers: Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to four days.
Additional Toppings; Chopped pecans, walnuts, and/or banana.
For more info on this and other natural health topics:
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