Cinnamon has a long history, going back thousands of years when Egyptians used it in their embalming processes. The bark of an evergreen tree, it is still used today in many herbal remedies and in the cookery of the world. It is said that cinnamon was an herb that spurred world exploration. Here, we will discuss cinnamon - its uses, both medicinal and culinary, where and how it is grown, and give tips on the best way to use it.
History of Cinnamon
The history of cinnamon is a long one, going back to ancient Egypt where it was used in the embalming process. Native to Ceylon, it was mentioned in ancient Chinese writings in 2800 BC. Its name derives from the Hebraic and Arabic term ammon, and the Italian word canella. Ammon means "fragrant spice plant" in Arabic and canella in Italian means "little tube", both very aptly naming the herb.
Cinnamon had high value as a spice. Pliny the Elder, the Roman scholar, once said that 350 grams of cinnamon was equal in value to five kilos of silver. Nero, the Roman Emperor, decreed that a year's worth of cinnamon was to be burned after he murdered his wife.
Cinnamon has long been valued for its preservative value for meats and medicinal use. The Dutch seized the island of Ceylon in the 17th century from the Portuguese, and when they learned of another source on the coast of England, coerced the king to destroy the supply, thus giving them a huge monopoly of the spice. In later years, when nations found that it was very easy to grow, the monopoly fell.
Today, cinnamon is grown widely in temperate climates of the world, and is an important spice in many of the world's cuisines.
Medicinal Uses of Cinnamon
Cinnamon is widely prescribed by herbalists as an astringent, stimulant and carminative. It is used to aid digestion, and relieve vomiting. Studies in Japan have shown that cinnamon contains a substance that kills fungi, bacteria and other microorganism.
Recent tests show that cinnamon has a distinct ability to improve brain functions. The tests were given by either having the subject chew cinnamon gum or smell the herb. Subjects who used cinnamon had better memory functions and could process information more quickly.
Studies in a Maryland USDA research center proved that cinnamon reduces high glucose levels. Their test findings were accidental - they were testing glucose levels in people eating apple pie, which had as a spice cinnamon. Further tests were conducted, and it was found that cinnamon not only lowers glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes, but lowered blood cholesterol levels in the process. Dosage ranged from as little as a quarter teaspoon to less than 2 teaspoons a day for 40 days.
Most common cinnamon found in today's supermarkets is made from the cassia tree. Although not the true cinnamon of ancient times, it still works well in the kitchen. Tea is made from cinnamon to do everything from boosting brain power to a digestive aid and controlling glucose levels.
Cinnamon is very popular for baking. Every one has had cinnamon rolls, and it is used as a spice in cookies, breads, pies and puddings. It is excellent for adding zing to such things as baked sweet potatoes and winter squash. It is used to add flavor to cereals, such as oatmeal, and just about everyone has had cinnamon and sugar on their toast.
When buying cinnamon, there are two ways to obtain it. It comes in both stick and ground. Be warned that is you buy stick cinnamon that it will be almost impossible to grind unless you get cinnamon sticks specifically grown in Ceylon (Sri Lanka today). Cinnamon will keep its flavor a very long time in stick form, but ground cinnamon loses flavor quickly. If you use it only occasionally, buy small amounts to keep it from losing its potency.
How Cinnamon is Grown
To grown cinnamon, you must live in a tropical zone. Cinnamon is a small evergreen tree and a member of the laurel family. In its native habitat, it can reach a height of 40 feet. It is grown in the South as ornamentals.
Plant in a well drained sandy loam with high nutrient content. Propagate by seed or cuttings of half ripened wood.
Tips For The Chef
Add cinnamon to tomato sauces to bring out the natural sweetness of the tomato. Use as a marinade for pork. Place a cinnamon stick in stored apple or orange juice in the refrigerator. Use to flavor punches, ciders and mulled beverages.
Cinnamon is a kitchen classic. Almost every kitchen has cinnamon, and it is essential to many ethnic cooking styles. Try cinnamon, enjoy its great taste, and be assured of its medicinal value.
Alden Smith is an award winning author and regular contributor to DoItYourself.com. He writes on a variety of subjects, and excels in research.