I don’t know about you but to me, simply saying the word ‘spice’ gets the taste buds working with anticipation. Little wonder then that spices are a wonderful way to add flavour to foods and none better so than cinnamon. This seductively, aromatic spice can be used medicinally or added to both sweet and savoury dishes where it can be enjoyed as much today as they were in Ancient Egypt. Such was its popularity then, it was considered to be more precious than gold and used as an addition to beverages, a medicine and as an embalming agent!
Cinnamon derives from the bark of the cinnamon tree and is available to purchase either in its rolled, brown tubular form, known as quills, or ground to a powder. If you’re looking for a stronger flavour then it’s the powder you want. Both should be stored in a sealed container away from the light to retain freshness.
If you’ve used cinnamon you’ll have immediately been struck by its warm aroma and quite distinctive flavour which comes from the aromatic essential oil found within the bark. I wonder what the first thing that comes to mind for you is, when you get a hint of the smell or taste of cinnamon. For me, it’s a quintessentially Christmas ingredient but also, one that can take your taste buds on a delectable journey and turn the simplest of dishes into something quite wonderful.
The Turks love to include it in both sweet and savoury treats; the Mexicans, being the largest current importer of cinnamon, add it to chocolate; whilst in the Middle East it’s a favourite ingredient used with chicken and lamb; and not forgetting the USA where many a ‘Mom’ will send her little ones off to school having fed them cinnamon toast – ground cinnamon and sugar added as a topping to toast.
‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food’ - Hippocrates
As one of the oldest spices known to us, cinnamon has impressive antimicrobial properties. This made it the perfect choice as a food preservative and it was a favourite mixed with garlic then spread over fish to prolong storage – hence the use as an embalming agent also!
Cinnamon is antiviral, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory and a natural source of fibre, manganese and calcium. It makes sense to add it to our foods for it's wonderful taste. For example, cinnamon makes for a natural alternative to sweetening dishes we love adding a sprinkling of our cinnamon powder to our morning porridge with a teaspoon of Lucy Bee Coconut Oil, or a banana sautéed in Lucy Bee Coconut Oil then added to Greek yoghurt with a sprinkling of cinnamon, makes a satisfying afternoon snack.
There are different varieties of cinnamon but the two most popular are:
The main difference between this and 'true cinnamon' is the coumarin content. This is a naturally occurring plant component. Something to note here is that 'true cinnamon' contains only small amounts of this, whereas Chinese cinnamon contains much higher amounts. Since it’s near impossible to tell the difference between powdered true cinnamon and cassia, it’s wise to verify the origin of the cinnamon that you buy.
Alternatively, if you buy cinnamon in the stick form you can do some detective work yourself to find out if it’s true or Chinese cinnamon. Simply take the stick and look down through the middle. True cinnamon will show several layers of bark since it comes from a much thinner plant bark and you can then grind these sticks down yourself if you so desire.
The sticks make a useful infusion in beverages such as added to a cup of hot chocolate – simply add to your drink and leave to stand for a few minutes to allow the flavour to infuse with the milk. We've found this works best in turmeric lattes and hot chocolates!
If you’re looking for an impressive sweet delight with which to tempt your family our carrot cake recipe is sure to hit the spot:
Whatever your preference, I’ve no doubt that cinnamon will find a home in your store cupboard, not only for its health benefits but its versatility and ability to transform the most basic of meals.
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Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.
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Petrina is a friend of Lucy Bee and advocates a healthy lifestyle. Having used coconut oil for over 10 years is a firm believer in its numerous benefits and uses.