Cinnamon has seen-a-man or two in history (sorry)… Impact writer Sarvenaz Hosseini takes a look at the background and uses of the glorious spice cinnamon.
With its earliest use being from around 2000 B.C for the embalming process, cinnamon is a spice that has always been used by humans. Arab traders introduced cinnamon to Europe in ancient times and kept the origins of this highly prized spice secret by telling mythical stories as to how they obtained it. One such tale claimed that cinnamon could be found in the nests of big birds on unreachable mountains. In order to obtain the cinnamon the traders needed to make the birds pick up ox meat causing cinnamon to fall out as the birds dropped the meat into their nests. Another tale spoke of cinnamon growing in dark canyons full of snakes and so on…
All of these tales are known to have been circulated to prevent market competition. This was successful until eventually a Roman philosopher (Pliny the Elder) in 1st century A.D. figured out that cinnamon didn’t come from Arabia and that big large ox meat loving birds didn’t exist (the latter statement is just a guess).
Around the mid to late middle ages, the Mamluks rose to power in Egypt. This stopped the tax-free trade that existed with European merchants, meaning that European traders were now looking for the source of cinnamon more than ever. This taxation may have led to the Portuguese takeover of Ceylon cinnamon and subsequently the cinnamon trade in 1518. To keep their monopoly of cinnamon, the Portuguese carried out a number of ‘colourful’ acts such as hanging their competitors and more.
Not surprisingly a symbol of status due to its rarity in Europe, cinnamon became a part of European festivities before Christmas was even a thing. It was used as a token of friendship, incense, as an ingredient in anointing oils or as a medicine for a cough.
Now let me convince you that cinnamon should be coming out of your kitchen cupboard more often during this time of year…
The Health Benefits
Type 2 Diabetes
A research paper published in the ‘American Diabetes Association’ journal concluded that an intake of 1-6 grams of cinnamon a day reduces blood glucose and LDL cholesterol levels (bad cholesterol that leads to cardiovascular disease) in those suffering from type 2 diabetes.
A book, Martindale (which I regularly use for my Pharmacy degree), describes cinnamon as a carminative, which means it basically either stops farts forming in your body or it helps you to expel farts. Either way, it’s worth getting some cinnamon to say goodbye to that painful gassy build up!
An article in the journal of ‘Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine’ describes cinnamon as being antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and effective towards some neurological disorders. However, I personally can’t bring myself to fully trust this journal as it may just be ever so slightly biased.
General tip for cooking with cinnamon
There are two different types of cinnamon:
1) Cassia (from Indonesia/China)
2) Ceylon (from Sri Lanka)
If you’re really into detail and want to make very particular choices in life, here is an opportunity to do so. Cassia is more aromatic and darker in colour than Ceylon since it has a higher concentration of cinnamaldehyde (molecule responsible for cinnamon’s aroma). So for making curries or stronger tasting dishes, you should go for Cassia, or if you’re looking for that delicate heart warming touch then Ceylon is your girl.
Recipe for your cinnamon hungry taste buds
Apple and plum cinnamon crumble
For crumble topping:
- 190 grams of wholemeal flour
- 70 grams of oats
- 100 grams of brown sugar
- 70 grams of coconut oil (solidified)
For fruit filling:
- 6 large plums, de-stoned and chopped
- 2 large cooking apples, cored and chopped
- 2 tbsp of brown sugar
- Zest of one lemon, grated finely
- 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of ginger
- 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
- Mix the flour, oats and sugar together and rub in the coconut oil. Place in the fridge.
- Put the fruit, sugar, lemon zest and spices in a saucepan and simmer on a low heat until the fruit becomes soft.
- Place in an oven dish and put the crumble topping on top.
- Bake for around 20 minutes, or until the top has browned and it is bubbling at the sides.
And to end on a fun fact…
The word cinnamon comes from the Indonesian term ‘Kayumanis’ which means ‘sweet wood’.
If you find yourself wanting to know more about the history of cinnamon here is a link you may like: <https://www.lib.umn.edu/bell/tradeproducts/cinnamon>
Image: Benjamin Esham via Flickr.