Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cinnamon: Roots in the past

Everyone loves the warm, distinctive flavor and essence that cinnamon adds to food dishes and hot drinks. But did you know that this ancient spice, taken from the bark of tropical trees, is an antioxidant powerhouse?

Cinnamon has one of the highest antioxidant levels of any spice, and even more than many foods. You'll get as many antioxidants in one teaspoon of cinnamon as a full cup of pomegranate juice or a half-cup of blueberries.

A spice that has stood the test of time

Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), sometimes called true cinnamon, has a long history. It originated in Asia, mostly Sri Lanka and India and is one of the oldest spices known to man.

In Ancient Egypt, Cinnamon was used not only as a beverage flavoring and medicine, but also as an embalming agent. It was so highly treasured that it was considered more precious than gold.

About the same time, in Ancient China, cinnamon also received much attention. It is mentioned in one of the earliest books on Chinese botanical medicine, dated back to around 2,700 B.C. Cinnamon’s popularity continued throughout history. Cinnamon was often added to food to prevent spoiling.

Due to its demand, cinnamon became one of the first commodities traded regularly between the Near East and Europe. It became one of the most popular spices in medieval Europe. In the Middle Ages, cinnamon was only affordable by the wealthy elite of society. A person's social rank during that time could be determined by the number of spices they could afford.

From the 16th to the 19th centuries, there were power struggles among European nations over who would control Ceylon and the lucrative cinnamon industry. In the early part of the 19th century, other countries began growing cinnamon and it became available to everyone.

Today, Ceylon cinnamon is produced in Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Brazil and the Caribbean, while Cassia cinnamon is mainly produced in China, Vietnam and Indonesia. Most cinnamon sold in supermarkets in North America comes from the less expensive variety, Cassia cinnamon.

Uses of Cinnamon in Traditional Medicine

Cinnamon is high in polyphenols, proanthocyanidins and antioxidant activity. Cinnamon’s unique healing abilities come from three basic types of components in the essential oils found in its bark. These essential oils are potent antibacterial and antifungal stimulants.

Cinnamon has been valued in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. The benefits of cinnamon include providing relief from colds or flu, especially when it's mixed in a tea with some fresh ginger. Cinnamon is useful for relieving sore throats, coughs, sneezing and mild headaches. It has also been used for flatulence, nausea, diarrhea, and painful menstrual periods. It's also believed to improve energy, vitality, and circulation, and be particularly useful for people who tend to feel hot in their upper body but have cold feet.

In Ayurvedic medicine, cinnamon is used as a remedy for diabetes, indigestion, and colds, and it is often recommended for people with the kapha Ayurvedic type.

How to buy cinnamon:                                                                                                                         

Ground cinnamon begins to fade in flavor after a few months, so it’s best to buy whole cinnamon quills (or sticks) and grind as needed. The quills are somewhat tough, so you’ll need a sturdy spice grinder or fine grater.
If your only option is to buy ground cinnamon, try to find good stuff made from whole quills, as opposed to “featherings” (which are the inner bark of twigs and small shoots that are not large enough to form a full quill) or from “cinnamon chips” (made from shavings and trimmings). When in doubt, buy Ceylon cinnamon, which comes from Sri Lanka and is widely considered to be the best in the world.
Cooking tips:
* Simmer a whole cinnamon quill in soups or stews.
* Sprinkle cinnamon on apples, bananas, melons and oranges.
* Combine equal parts cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper and rub into meats.
* Make spiced tea: Put a quart of brewed tea into a pot, add 2 cups of apple juice, and gently simmer with a sliced lemon and two cinnamon sticks for 10 minutes.

Add some spice to your kitchen with these scrumptious recipes: 

Apple, Cinnamon and Pecan Tea Cake Recipe
Vegan Cinnamon Rolls
Cinnamon Spice Black Tea
Mexican Hot Chocolate (Champurrado)

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