TAKE A FRESH LOOK AT YOUR HOME SPICES – CINNAMON
Are you ready for the next spice to be discussed in depth? This will be article number three in the TAKE A FRESH LOOK AT YOUR HOME SPICES series.
In my previous articles I gave you a list of 15 of the most common spices that had the ability to multitask — multitask meaning not only able to assist in culinary endeavors, but in medicinal or otherwise useful areas.
This week we are going to talk about all the wonderful benefits of CINNAMON.
Let’s start with some basic facts concerning CINNAMON:
#1. It was originally indigenous to Sri Lanka and records show it was in use in China as far back as 2700 BC.
#2. Cinnamon comes from the bark of an evergreen tree of the Laurel family. This tree can only grow in tropical regions such as India, Sumatra, Java, Brazil, Vietnam, the West Indies, Egypt, Zanzibar, and Madagascar.
#3. There are two types of cinnamon as we know it. One is called Cinnamomum zelanicum and is formally known as True Cinnamon; and the other is called Cinnamomum cassia or just Cassia. Cassia is the one that we here in the US use most often. It has a bolder taste and aroma.
#4. What does it taste like? Most of us know this already, but just in case someone is not sure let’s try to describe it. It has a warm, sweet, slightly woody flavor with a delicate, yet intense appeal that is fragrant and warm to the taste buds with hints of citrus and clove present.
#5. Ground cinnamon is widely available, and easy to use. The paler the color, the finer the quality. But, ground cinnamon loses its flavor very rapidly, so remember to always buy it in small quantities.
#6. The ‘sticks’ of cinnamon are actually called ‘quills‘. Quills keep their aroma for 2 to 3 years if stored in an airtight container. However, the common cinnamon sold in the US (Cassia) is rather difficult to grind into a powder, so it is recommended that you buy a small amount of the powdered for daily use.
#7. A teaspoon of cinnamon contains 28 mg of calcium, almost one mg of iron, over a gram of fiber, and quite a lot of vitamins C, K, and manganese. It also contains about half a gram of “usable” (non-fiber) carbohydrate.
Now for a quick and easy science lesson. There are two organic compounds that exist within cinnamon, and both of these are extremely important - both for culinary reasons, and for medicinal reasons. One, Eugenol, is what gives us the clove taste. And the other Cinnamaldehyde, gives us the taste and odor we all know and love. Eugenol makes up a minor (about 10%) component of cinnamon oil, while Cinnamaldehyde can lay claim to 60% to 75% of cinnamon oil.
How many people know how effective cinnamon is against three of the major illness-causing bacteria? I’m talking about E. coli, Salmonella, and Staphylococcus aureas. Why is this? Studies have found that the medicinal qualities of cinnamon are due to both the Eugenol and the Cinnamaldehyde.
Eugenol displays antiseptic and analgesic properties which may also contribute to Cinnamon’s soothing effect. Cinnamaldehyde displays antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties. It can also be used as a good pesticide and a fungicide. Cinnamaldehyde can actually kill a fairly large variety of bad bacteria, which is why it is so effective against the three ‘biggie bacteria’ listed above
**1. Recent studies have shown marked anti-cancer activity that was observed in cell cultures. Tumor growth and invasion were both inhibited in models of human melanoma.
**2. Another use for cinnamaldehyde is as an antimicrobial. Researchers (funded by the Wm Wrigley Jr. Company) have found that cinnamic aldehyde, when used in their gum ‘Big Red’, prevented oral bacterial growth by more than 50%. It is especially effective against bacteria living at the back of the tongue, reducing these anaerobic bacteria populations by about 43 percent.
**3. Just the smell of Cinnamaldehyde can repel animals such as dogs and cats. And it is a very effective insecticide for mosquito larvae, killing the larvae in less than 24 hours.
**4. Diabetics are now advised to consume cinnamon as several studies have shown improved insulin sensitivity and blood glucose control by taking as little as 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon per day. And anything that improves insulin resistance can help in weight control as well as decreasing the risk for heart disease. There are documented improvements in the levels of triglycerides, blood pressure, and LDL cholesterol also.
**5. Another little known use of Cinnamaldehyde is as a corrosion inhibitor for steel and other ferrous alloys.
IMPORTANT: Pregnant women should NOT consume therapeutic doses of cinnamon (especially the essential oil) as it is a potential uterine stimulant.
So, as you can see now, Cinnamon has many more useful qualities than to simply add flavor to your oatmeal, or your apple pies.
Keep watching for the next article where we will be delving into the common kitchen spice CLOVE.