Cinnamon has a very long history as both medicine and food. In ancient Egypt and ancient China, it was used to treat such ailments as bronchitis, gastrointestinal issues, and even appetite! Throughout history, cinnamon has been used in healing rituals in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicinal traditions.
Cinnamon is dried pieces of bark from a small evergreen tree found in Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Cassia, which has a stronger smell and flavor of the two, and is mainly produced in Indonesia. Ceylon, the milder and sweeter cinnamon, is mainly produced in Sri Lanka (also thought of as “true cinnamon.”)
Cinnamon can be found in two forms. First is in stick form, also know as “quills”. You often see cinnamon sticks used as stirrers for specialty hot beverages like apple cider or various holiday coffee drinks. Cinnamon’s second form is a finely ground powder, which come from grinding the quills. Interested in grinding your own? Great! You will have an easier time grinding Ceylon because it is more delicate and will crumble easier. You can use a mortar and pestle, a coffee grinder, or a specific spice grinder to make your own ground cinnamon. Cinnamon sticks will keep for about a year if sealed and stored properly (in glass containers, such as mason jars, work best–put in a cool, dry place) and ground cinnamon will keep for 6 months if ground and stored properly. Of course, cinnamon’s shelf life can be extended by keeping it in the refrigerator.
Cinnamon contains three essential oils with different components. Just one teaspoon of cinnamon is an excellent source of manganese and fiber (1 gram in 1 teaspoon), and a very good source of calcium. You will also get vitamin C and vitamin K. The essential oils in cinnamon act as anti-clotting, anti-microbial, and anti-parasitic agents.
It can be used in a variety of ways. Most common is in hot drinks, baked goods and sweets, such as hot apple cider, cinnamon rolls and cookies (yum!). It is commonly found in savory dishes from India, North Africa, Mexico, Germany, and Greece. One of my favorite ways to use cinnamon is on a baked sweet potato with vegan butter, such as Earth Balance, and a light drizzle of maple syrup (talk about super yum in your mouth). Cinnamon also pairs nicely with roasted root veggies, such as carrots, potatoes and parsnips. It is also awesome with squash, especially acorn, butternut and pumpkin.
For savory dishes, try a Moroccan vegetable Tagine; it tantalizes the senses with a variety of spices, such as coriander, cumin, and cinnamon. But my most favorite way to enjoy cinnamon is in a simple chai tea latte. Making your own chai concentrate is easy and fun!
5 Ways Cinnamon Will Benefit You:
1) Cinnamon Can Curb a Sweet Tooth– Cinnamon has this awesome ability to enhance the sweetness of foods that are naturally sweet. A great way to fool a sweet tooth is sprinkling cinnamon on apple slices.
2) Cinnamon Helps with weight loss– …by regulating blood sugar and helping you feel satiated for longer. Cinnamon can also thin the blood, which leads to increased blood flow, which in turn improves metabolism. Try sprinkling cinnamon on foods that are high in carbohydrates to lessen the impact on your blood sugar.
3) Helps with Inflammation– Rubbing cinnamon oil (remember to dilute with a carrier oil!) on aching joints and muscles and adding cinnamon to post-workout smoothies can help athletes recover faster from intense workouts
4) Boosts Brain Function– Phillip Zoladz, PhD, MA, BA, did a study on the effect of cinnamon on improving cognitive function. He found that by consuming cinnamon, it helped improve the ability to problem solve and remember information.
5) PMS– According to this Maryland study, a diet with higher amounts of manganese can help ease symptoms of PMS such mood swings and cramps. Cinnamon is a great way to relax and calm PMS symptoms.
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Photo: J.P. Alvarado; Peaceful Dumpling