Summer is almost over and it will be dearly missed. But aren’t you looking forward to a delicious fall? The season of warm and cozy delights is ahead of us! Boy, are we eager to start making pumpkin, ginger and, above all, cinnamon recipes.
We’d better start preparing.
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Cinnamon Time Travel
Can anyone imagine Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas without this fragrant spice? Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the bark of the cinnamon tree. It is one of the healthiest and tastiest spices in the world, widely used in both sweet and savory recipes.
Let’s go back in time and find out more about its origins.
Ancient Egypt. The use of cinnamon goes back to the ancient Egyptians, who used it as medicine and embalming agent. Due to its multiple uses and scarcity, cinnamon was valued more than gold and was offered to monarchs and gods.
The Bible. The Bible mentions cinnamon several times, most commonly as a perfume for clothes and bed sheets, as well as anointing oil. This oil was made from the bark, leaves, or twigs of the cinnamon tree.
Ancient Greece. Greeks were the first to mention the term ‘cassia’. The word is found in one of Sappho’s poems dating from the 7th century BC. Herodotus claimed that cinnamon grew in Arabia, together with other valuable plants like myrrh, incense, and labdanum, protected by winged serpents.
Ancient Rome. Pliny mentions cassia being used to flavor wine, adding that it was as expensive as a ten-months’ salary! This means that the spice was reserved for the rich only. The legend has it that Emperor Nero burned a year’s worth amount of cinnamon at the funeral of his wife.
The Middle Ages. The cinnamon traders kept the source of cinnamon a secret to Europeans. Gullible European peoples believed all sorts of strange stories like the one that cinnamon was collected in nets from the Nile or that giant birds collected cinnamon sticks from an unknown land. These stories circled until the 11th century, when it was discovered that the spice is native to India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar.
The Renaissance. By this time, Chinese and Europeans also came to widely use cinnamon, as both a healing agent and a spice. As a result, cinnamon’s value increased and it became one of the most popular trading goods.
Whoever traded with cinnamon had enormous power. Venetian traders were the first to hold a monopoly on the trade in Europe, distributing cinnamon from Alexandria. Their dominance was disrupted with the rise of the Ottoman Empire, which motivated Europeans to search alternative routes to Asia.
In the 16th century, Ferdinand Magellan was searching for spices on behalf of Spain and found a cinnamon species in the Philippines that was similar to the cinnamon found in Sri Lanka (Ceylon). The Dutch became main traders in the 17th century after expelling the Portuguese from Sri Lanka. In the 18th century, the British took control of Sri Lanka from the Dutch.
The Difference Between Ceylon Cinnamon and Cassia Cinnamon
Not all cinnamon is created equal. Since the cinnamon tree is now growing all over the world, over 250 different cinnamon species have been identified. However, there are two main types widely used: Ceylon cinnamon (often referred to as ‘true’ cinnamon) and Cassia (also called ‘fake’ cinnamon).
Both kinds of cinnamon have a somewhat similar, spicy taste and smell due to the presence of cinnamaldehyde. Other than that, they’re quite different in taste, appearance and especially in their medical properties
Ceylon and cassia come from two different but related cinnamon trees. Ceylon cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka and Thailand and is rarer. That is why this variety is more expensive and harder to find in grocery stores.
Cassia cinnamon is also known as Chinese or Saigon cinnamon. It is cheaper and more widely available. This is the kind of cinnamon we buy and use regularly.
Appearance & taste
As far as taste is concerned, Ceylon cinnamon is said to have a milder, sweeter, and more citrusy taste than cassia, which is deeper and spicier. The Ceylon variety is also lighter brown in color. When it comes in the form of sticks, Ceylon cinnamon is multi-layered, thinner, and softer than Cassia.
Of the two varieties, Ceylon cinnamon is definitely the healthier one. Cassia cinnamon contains high amounts of compounds called coumarins (1000 times more than the Ceylon variety!). These compounds are potentially toxic and when consumed regularly, they can cause serious health issues like liver damage.
Buying and Storing Cinnamon
Ceylon cinnamon oil and powder can be found in specialty and health food stores, as well as online.
Check the label to determine which type of cinnamon you’re buying. If there’s no indication of the type, it is probably cassia cinnamon. You can also check the price; if it’s higher than usual, it’s probably Ceylon cinnamon.
Cinnamon sticks will keep for a year, whereas the powder has a shelf life of six months. Store cinnamon in tightly sealed glass containers and keep in a cool, dry, and dark place. For longer shelf life, cinnamon can be stored in the fridge. In that case, check the smell before use. If it doesn’t smell sweet, throw it away.
You can also purchase cinnamon sticks and grate fresh cinnamon yourself using a small hand-held grater.
Health Benefits of Cinnamon
When talking about health benefits of cinnamon, we’re thinking about the real, Ceylon cinnamon. Consuming just a ½ teaspoon of cinnamon a day has the following health benefits:
– Cinnamon is rich in antioxidants that reduce oxidative damage and slow the aging process. In fact, cinnamon contains over 40 such compounds and ranks #7 on the list of most powerful antioxidant foods on the planet, as well as #1 on the list of top antioxidant spices!
– The antioxidants in cinnamon have anti-inflammatory effects, which help reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, brain problems, and more. These compounds also help relieve pains and severe allergic reactions.
– Cinnamon is very efficient in protecting the heart by lowering high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and high triglyceride levels. It also acts as a blood coagulant and increases blood circulation.
– Cinnamaldehyde has an ability to inhibit tumor growth, causing the cancerous cells to self-destruct. Moreover, cinnamon has been shown very efficient in cancer prevention, especially in reducing the risk of colon cancer.
– Cinnamon is known for its antidiabetic effects as well. It helps lower blood sugar levels, improves sensitivity to insulin, a hormone vital for balancing blood sugar levels, and reduces the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream after a sugary meal.
– The antioxidants in cinnamon protect the brain against age-related and neurodegenerative brain disorders, like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases by activating the neuroprotective proteins in the brain.
– Cinnamon is a natural antibiotic, anti-microbial, antiviral, and anti-fungal agent. It boosts the immunity and protects against bacteria that affects the skin, digestive tract, and causes flu.
– The anti-fungal properties cinnamon has can help stop the occurrence and growth of Candida in the digestive tract by boosting the immune system and fighting candida-causing yeast in the digestive tract.
– Cinnamon fights bacteria in the mouth that could cause tooth decay, cavities, bad breath, or mouth infections.
– Cinnamon helps fight common allergy symptoms by reducing inflammation. It also boosts immunity and helps regulate the digestive system, which may be helpful after consuming food allergens. Cinnamon can also help relieve asthma attacks.
– Applying cinnamon oil directly to the skin can help with various skin conditions including rashes, irritations, acne, redness, swelling, infections, pain, and allergic reactions. Due to its pleasant smell, cinnamon essential oil is also used in beauty products like perfumes and shampoos.
Cinnamon health precautions: Cinnamon does not cause any allergies, especially if used in small amounts (as it usually is). However, when combined with too many cinnamon-based supplements, it can cause certain health issues, especially in pregnant women, diabetics or those who have liver problems.
Make sure to check the recommended dose of cinnamon extract/supplement on the label or consult with your doctor. When using cinnamon oil on the skin for the first time, apply a small amount on a limited surface to check for possible reactions or irritations.
Cooking with Cinnamon
Due to its delicate flavor, cinnamon is used in almost all cuisines of the world. It is added to both sweet and savory recipes, from cinnamon rolls and cinnamon toasts to popular Middle Eastern and Asian specialties like lamb, curry, rice and more!
One of the biggest advantages of cinnamon is that it can be used to sweeten various dishes without added sugar. It contains no calories or sugar, which makes it a healthy addition to many recipes including tea, coffee, fruit, yogurt, oatmeal, and baked goods.
Whole cinnamon sticks can be added to various liquids like mulled wine, to give them a distinct flavor and infuse them with nutrients.
Cinnamon oil has a similar flavor to the powder, only a bit stronger. It is suitable for use in ice creams, teas, condiments, baked goods, candies, and soft drinks. Look for diluted, food grade cinnamon oil approved by the FDA.
Due to its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, cinnamon can also be used as food preservative, without the need to add artificial chemicals. In this process, the use of cinnamon also prevents discoloration of fruits and veggies as a result of oxidation.
Tasty Cinnamon Recipes
There’s nothing better than the smell of cinnamon buns baking on a chilly Sunday morning! Tip: To make sure your buns rise perfectly, put the pan with the dough slices in a 200 degrees F oven for one minute. Then, turn the oven off, close the door, and leave the buns for about half an hour inside. They’re done when they double in size!
This traditional light & flaky cinnamon rolls recipe is complemented with a creamy pecan filling and a sweet glaze on top.
These super-soft cookies are made from a cake mix. They’re rolled in cinnamon sugar and baked to golden perfection. Tip: Adding a ¼ cup ﬂaked almonds to the mixture will contribute extra texture to the recipe.
A delicious cake made with sour cream as a secret ingredient inside the batter and a crunchy pecan streusel as frosting on top. Tip: Let the cake cool on a wire rack. This way, the circulation of air around the pan will prevent the cake from ending up soggy at the bottom.
Perfection comes as an apple-and-cinnamon blend in this simple cinnamon rolls recipe. Tip: To easily change the flavor of the dessert, replace the cinnamon filling with almonds. Add flaked almonds over the parchment with the sugar and a few more over the apple butter filling.
The classic bread pudding is reinvented with the addition of cinnamon swirl! Tip: If you want to impress a hungry crowd, sweeten the buttery bread pudding with a 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips instead of the raisins.
These sweet and spicy bites have a nutty, cinnamon ﬁlling rolled up inside a sugar cookie dough and a drizzle of sweet glaze over the top. Tip: To complement the sweetness with a tangy note, add four tablespoons of chopped dried cranberries, dried cherries, or raisins to the filling.
Crispy, sweet pastries topped with spicy and slightly chewy meringue produce a delicate treat that pairs beautifully with your morning cup of coffee. Tip: Take this delight to another level by preparing chocolate meringue! Just replace the cinnamon with cocoa (use 1–2 tablespoons cocoa powder).
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How to turn plain crescent rolls into sweet, nutty, cinnamon-ﬁlled delights? This recipe will reveal the secret! Make sure to serve them warm and they’ll disappear in no time! Tip: to make these rolls attractive, top them with a simple glaze. Just combine ½ cup confectioners’ sugar and 4 teaspoons milk in a small bowl. Stir until smooth and lightly drizzle the glaze over the tops.
These tasty cookies are ﬂavored with spicy cinnamon, ground almonds, and a twist of lemon. Pair them with a warm cup of coffee or a glass of milk. Tip: To make Italian stuffed peaches, process 3 crinkles, 1 tablespoon each sugar, and softened butter in a food processor. Halve and pit 2 peaches, spoon the filling into the peach halves, and place in an ovenproof dish. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of red wine or grape juice and bake at 350˚F for about half an hour.