Aromatic Spice Or Agent Of Death?
What’s better than waking up on a cold, dark winter’s morning than smelling hot coffee and cinnamon rolls wafting from the kitchen? Or coming in from shoveling snow to a fresh pan of apple crisp, with the aroma of apples, cinnamon, and toasted oatmeal smacking you square in your runny nose? I can’t think of one thing! And it’s been that way forever … or should I say at least since 2800 B.C., when cinnamon – one of the earliest, most popular spices – was written about in Chinese writings.
THE HISTORY OF CINNAMON
Originally native to Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), cinnamon is one of the oldest traded spices in the world. Once considered more valuable than gold, the spice, according to brittanica.com, “in Egypt was sought for embalming and religious practices; in medieval Europe, it was used for religious rites and as a flavoring. Later it was the most profitable spice in the Dutch East India Company trade.” For the longest time, it was openly traded on the “cinnamon route,” which is, per myspicer.org, where “Indonesion rafts transported cinnamon … to East Africa, where local traders then carried it north to the Roman market. Arab traders brought the spice through trade routes into Egypt, where it was bought by Venetian traders from Italy who held a monopoly on the spice trade in Europe.”
In 1518, however, the Portuguese took control of Sri Lanka – and the revered cinnamon grown there – where they maintained a monopoly on the spice for over 100 years. Fast forward to the 17th century, when the Dutch took control of the island, and the cinnamon monopoly. Once they learned that cinnamon trees had been discovered on the coast of India, they burned all the trees there, maintaining their control of the market. Eventually, it was discovered that cinnamon could grow in most warm climates; thus, the stranglehold on the spice was released. Today, cinnamon is cultivated in South America, the West Indies, and other tropical locales.
WHAT IS CINNAMON?
Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of a tree. When harvested, it is very light in color, turning brown as it dries. It is then ground into a powder. The four major species come from different types of cinnamon trees (all originating from the Cinnamomum genus). Verum (Ceylon cinnamon), commonly known as “true cinnamon,” tends to be more herbal and savory versus very sweet. Cassia is strongly aromatic, sweet, warm, and bitter. It is the type you generally see in the spice aisle of your grocery store, and in food product/supplement formulations when the label only states “cinnamon.” Korintje is generally milder in flavor, and Saigon cinnamon is the strongest – sweet and hot, it possesses the most essential oils.
Thanks to its spicy aroma, cinnamon enhances both sweet and savory foods. Used to flavor a variety of foods, it can be baked into bread, cakes, pies, and cookies; is a wonderful addition to warm beverages such as cider, tea, cider, coffee, and cocoa; and is also a good compliment to meats such as beef, chicken, pork, and lamb.
its health benefits
Not only can it add a bit of spice to your favorite dishes and drinks, cinnamon is also good for you. According to WebMd, “Cinnamon contains potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Potassium helps to counteract sodium’s effect on blood pressure and regulates the heart rate. Potassium is also involved in nerve function. Magnesium and calcium work together to maintain a healthy heartbeat. These two minerals are essential for skeletal health, preventing the weakening of bones.” It also provides other health benefits. While not necessarily scientifically proven, it can used as a pain killer and as a treatment for PMS; is an antifungal, an antiviral, and an antibacterial; aids with digestive issues, arthritis, and lowers blood sugar; helps combat diabetes, is a weapon in preventing cancer, slows cognitive decline, is an anti-inflammatory, helps with virility; and more. Whether or not all of this is true, I’m not sure – but it certainly is reported to help. I do know that cinnamon is used to help preserve meat, thanks to its phenols. Phenols restrict the growth of the bacteria that is responsible for some spoilage. If one was not so responsible and left their meat out longer than the phenols were capable of controlling bacteria, the aromatics of the cinnamon would mask the odor of spoiled meat (to an extent).
Despite all of its flavorful glory, there are some drawbacks to the spice. While safe to eat in small amounts, the “gift of gods and kings” does contain coumarin – an aromatic organic chemical compound. If too much is consumed, coumarin can lead to liver damage and may increase your risk of cancer. It can also create warfarin, which thins the blood, potentially leading to hemorrhaging. Since cinnamon is an anti-coagulant, hemorrhaging would not be good! Heavy use could irritate your mouth and lips, causing sores, and some people are allergic to it. It is also known to cause hair loss (insert frowny face here). But look at the bright side – it helps with a more youthful complexion (insert smiley face here).
So, is cinnamon the most awesome aromatic spice? Or is the agent of death? I don’t know … but I do know I’m going to keep baking with it!
Here are two tried and true treats that are sure to satisfy any sweet tooth and warm any belly on those cold, dark winter’s mornings coming up, when nothing is better than the spicy scent of cinnamon permeating throughout the house.
– 4 large baking apples
– 1/4 cup brown sugar
– 1 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1/4 cup chopped pecans, optional
– 1/4 cup currants or chopped raisins
– 1 tablespoon butter
– 3/4 cup boiling water
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Wash and core the apples. Mix sugar, cinnamon, pecans, and raisins together. Stuff your apples with the mixture and top with butter, then place in a baking dish. Pour water into the baking dish, and bake until apples are soft, but not mushy (30-45 minutes).
Serve topped with delicious vanilla or butter pecan ice cream.
– 1/2 cup white sugar
– 1/8 cup butter
– 1/4 cup orange juice
– 1 pound Bing or other dark, sweet cherries, rinsed and pitted (or use frozen pitted cherries)
– 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
– 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1/4 cup brandy
In a sauce pan, melt the butter and mix in the sugar and orange juice. When this comes to a boil, add cherries, cinnamon, and orange zest. Stir until the cherries are hot and softened, approximately three minutes. Turn off the heat, add the brandy, and turn the heat back on for one minute. For dramatic effect, light the brandy when you add it (absolutely keep your face away from the pot when you do this – and keep the fire extinguisher handy). As it flames, sprinkle cinnamon above the flames. Spoon over a scoop of vanilla ice cream.
Owner of Lumpy's Ice Cream. Lumpy's uses the finest local ingredients and crafts them into ice cream without any preservatives, additives, or synthetic hormones.