Cinnamon spice is one of the highly prized spices that has been in use since biblical times for its fragrance, medicinal and culinary properties. This delightfully exotic, sweet-flavored spice traditionally obtained from the inner brown bark of Cinnamomum trees which when dried rolls into a tubular-sticks, known commercially as "quill."
The cinnamon plant is a small, evergreen bushy tree belonging to the family of Lauraceae or laurel within the genus, Cinnamomum. This novel spice is native to Sri Lankan island but also grow in many other countries such as Indonesia, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, China.
|Cassia. Note for coarser sticks. Cassia is more pungent but less fragrant than cinnamon.||Cinnamon "quills" with powder.
(Photo courtesy by-Eran Finkle)
Different cultivars of cinnamons exist; however, Sri Lankan variety considered widely as "true cinnamon" (Cinnamonum verum.) Traditionally, mature cinnamon tree inner bark bruised using a brass rod, which is then peeled off from the tree. In the processing units, this layer sliced into long stripes which are then rolled into quills by hand and allowed to dry under the sunlight.
Aromatic cinnamon essential oil (makes up 0.5% to 1% of its composition) also extracted from the same tree. In the factories, this fragrant-rich inner layer pounded roughly, macerated in seawater, and then quickly distilled.
Cinnamon oil features golden-yellow color with the characteristic tint of cinnamon and very pungent, aromatic taste.
The pungent taste and scent in cinnamon spice is because of chemical compounds, cinnamic aldehyde and cinnamaldehyde.
Cassia, also known as Chinese cinnamon, is a different member of Lauraceae family, and named as Cinnamomum cassia. Cassia is coarser, more spicy, and pungent but less fragrant than cinnamon. It is usually substituted for the cinnamon in savory dishes.
The active principles in the cinnamon spice known to have anti-oxidant, anti-diabetic, anti-septic, local anesthetic, anti-inflammatory, rubefacient (warming and soothing), carminative and anti-flatulent properties.
Cinnamon spice has the highest anti-oxidant strength of all the food sources in nature. The total measured ORAC (Oxygen radical absorbance capacity) value for this novel spice is 2,67,536 trolex equivalents (TE), which is many hundred times more than in chokeberry, apples, etc.
The spice contains health benefiting essential oils such as eugenol, a phenylpropanoids class of chemical compound that gives pleasant, sweet aromatic fragrance to it. Eugenol has got local anesthetic and antiseptic properties, hence; employed in the dental and gum treatment procedures.
Other important essential oils in cinnamon include ethyl cinnamate, linalool, cinnamaldehyde, beta-caryophyllene, and methyl chavicol.
Cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon-sticks has been found to have anti-coagulnt (prevents blood-lotting) function, prevents platelet clogging inside the blood vessels, and thereby helps prevent stroke, peripheral arterial and coronary artery diseases.
The active principles in this spice increase the motility of the intestinal tract and help in digestion by increasing gastro-intestinal enzyme secretions.
This spicy stick is an excellent source of minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Iron is required for cellular metabolism as a co-factor and in RBC's production. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese and copper are chiefly used by the body as co-factors for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
It also contains very good amounts of vitamin A, niacin, pantothenic acid, and pyridoxine.
Further, it is also a very good source of flavonoid phenolic anti-oxidants such as carotenes, zea-xanthin, lutein and cryptoxanthin.
Cinnamon spice can be readily available year-round in the markets, either in the form of sticks (quills) or powdered. Good-quality quills smell sweet aroma that may be appreciated from a distance.
In the store, buy whole sticks instead of its powder since oftentimes it may contain adulterated spicy powders or low quality cassia. The sticks should be wholesome, compact, and feature light brown color in case of Ceylon variety or dark brown in Indonesian variety.
Whole sticks should be stored in cool, dry, dark place, in airtight glass containers for many months and can be milled using hand held mill as and when required. Ground/powder cinnamon spice should be stored inside the refrigerator inside sealed containers and should be used as early as possible since it loses its flavor quickly.
The essential oil, eugenol, has been in therapeutic use in dentistry as a local-anesthetic and antiseptic for teeth and gum.
Eugenol also has been found to reduce blood sugar levels in diabetics, but further detailed studies required to establish its benefits.
The extraction from the sticks (decoction) sometimes used in treating flatulence, and indigestion in traditional medicine.
The spice used in traditional medicines to stave off common cold and oxidant stress conditions.
In order to keep the fragrance and flavor intact, cinnamon spice is generally powdered just before preparing dishes and added at the last moment in the cooking recipes since prolonged cooking results in evaporation of its essential oils.
Around the world, cinnamon spice widely used as a spice. It principally employed in cookery as a condiment and flavoring base. It added in the preparation of chocolate and in some kinds of desserts, such as cinnamon-apple pie and cinnamon buns as well as pastries, bagels, sweet rolls, spicy candies, tea, hot cocoa, and liqueurs.
Cinnamon spice has been in use in the preparation of many popular dishes in Asian and Chinese cuisine since ancient times. Along with other spicy items (masala powder), it is being used in marinating chicken, fish and meats.
Some Indian vegetarian and chicken curries and rice dishes (biriyani) preparations use this in small amounts. In the Middle East, it used in meat and rice dishes.
It has also been used in the preparation of soups, barbecue sauces, pickling and as one of the ingredients in variety of curry powders.
Uncooked cinnamon spice can cause choking and respiratory distress. Excessive use of the cinnamon stick may cause inflammation of taste buds, gum swelling, and mouth ulcers. Large quantities can cause difficulty breathing, dilate blood vessels, and cause sleepiness, depression, or even convulsions. (Medical disclaimer).
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Resources and Further Reading:
2. The Spice Council- Sri Lankan spices.
3. Pubmed.gov -Baker WL, Gutierrez-Williams G, White CM, et al. Effect on glucose control and lipid parameters. Diabetes Care. 2008;31(1):41–43.
4. High daily intakes of cinnamon: Health risk cannot be ruled out-BfR Health Assessment No. 044/2006, 18 August 2006.
5. Orihara, Y.; Hamamoto, H.; Kasuga, H.; Shimada, T.; Kawaguchi, Y.; Sekimizu, K. (2008). "A silkworm baculovirus model for assessing the therapeutic effects of antiviral compounds: Characterization and application to the isolation of antivirals from traditional medicines". Journal of General Virology 89 (Pt 1): 188–94.