Nothing heralds autumn like the sweet, woodsy aroma of cinnamon. The spice perfumes entire airport terminals blessed with Cinnabon stores. Starbucks added Cinnamon Dolce Lattes to its repertoire (along with counter shakers for cinnamonphiles), while Ben & Jerry’s concocted Cinnamon Buns, blending caramel ice cream with cinnamon bun dough.
Some old-school realtors put pans of cinnamon-infused water in a hot oven before open houses for an enticing aura of home-baked lovin’. Aside from its gustatory (and marketing) assets, cinnamon is one of the world’s most powerful healing spices.
Throughout history, the treasured cinnamon was used for everything from a measure of currency to a preservative for spoiling meat.
In the 17th century, the coveted spice with enchanting culinary, aphrodisiacal and medicinal properties became the target of a bloody power struggle. The Dutch became fierce aggressors seizing the Portuguese owned island of Ceylon, the world’s biggest supplier of cinnamon. To further secure the lucrative cinnamon monopoly the Dutch scoped out a substantial source of the spice along India’s coast, and used strong-arm tactics on the local king to decimate the cinnamon supply.
By 1833 the cinnamon monopoly had petered out as a handful of countries in South America and other tropical climes developed the horticultural know-how for growing cinnamon.
Tale of Two Cinnamons
The warm, fragrant spice has a doppelganger. While the “true” cinnamon native to Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon, comes from the crumbly inner bark of the Cinnamomum zeylanicum tree, a close imposter lurks from the Cinnamomum cassia plant, aka “Indonesian,” “Saigon” or “Chinese” cinnamon. A cinnamon detective can discern the genuine variety from the fake by clues of color, taste, appearance, texture and place of origin (on the label). The ground powder of the Ceylon form is a light brown or tan shade with a sweet and aromatic flavor, while the counterfeit has a reddish tinge, with a less sweet disposition and peppery undertones. When choosing sticks, the real thing has a smooth bark, and curls from one side, resembling a rolled up newspaper, while the less refined (and usually less expensive) cousin has a rough exterior, curling from both sides to the center.
While both have health benefits, “true” Ceylon trumps its cassia copycat. Cassia contains more blood-thinning “coumarin,” so those on blood-thinning medication should steer clear of this variety.
The Super Spice
“True” Ceylon cinnamon is a super healing antioxidant powerhouse packed with calcium, iron, zinc, immune-boosting Vitamin C, fiber and manganese with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-parasitic and anti-inflammatory properties. But that’s just the beginning. This amazing spice has been found to regulate blood sugar levels, boost lean muscle mass, jack up energy and vitality, and increase circulation. Cinnamon also puts the skids on digestive complaints, such as flatulence, bloating, nausea and indigestion, and wards off colds and the flu, urinary tract and yeast infections, along with the hiccups. Just a whiff seems to boost visual-motor skills, the ability to focus and memory. Don’t forget that! As an added boon, the volatile oils in cinnamon heat up the libido, stimulating more than just the gustatory appetite.
From A(pple pie) to Z(ucchini bread)
The multi-tasking cinnamon jazzes up both sweet and savories while adding a healthful antioxidant oomph. The marriage of apples and cinnamon is sheer culinary bliss whether the spice is incorporated in apple pies, cakes, cobblers, strudels or sauces. Awaken the taste buds in assorted breakfast foods from oatmeal, yogurt and scones to French toast and a cinnamon vanilla omelet. Whip up a brown sugar, butter and cinnamon spread for toast, waffles or pancakes. Blend the spice in peanut or almond butter. Zip up couscous, quinoa, pilafs and rice or noodle puddings. Add to carrot, pumpkin and zucchini breads or muffins, biscottis and oatmeal raisin cookies. Concoct a Moroccan-style marinade with cinnamon, cumin, brown sugar and cayenne to dial up chicken, wild-caught fish or seafood. Put a pinch in turkey meatballs or meatloaves.
• The word cinnamon is derived from the Greek root, kinnamōmon meaning “sweet wood.”
• A blend of honey and cinnamon has been found to relieve achy, arthritic joints.
• Cinnamon is one of the flavors used in cola drinks.
• Lip enhancing glosses frequently contain cinnamaldehyde, (cinnamon’s essential oils) that causes intentional swelling for a full and pouty mouth.
Rum and Raisin Baked Apples
6 apples (Granny Smith, Pink Lady)
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground Ceylon cinnamon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup dark rum
2 whole cloves
Zest from one lemon
Method: Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Cut tops off apples and set aside. Scoop out cores with a melon baller, careful not to puncture the bottom. Place in an oven-safe baking dish. In a saucepan heat the rest of ingredients until sugar is dissolved. Pour into apple cavities and the ovenproof dish. Return apple tops and cover with parchment paper. Bake until soft, about 30 minutes. Serve with cinnamon gelato.