We all love it in apple pie, but few of us know the amazing health benefits of cinnamon.
Although cinnamon is used in many recipes throughout the year, it’s warm taste and association with recipes like apple pie and apple crisp make us think of it as a cold weather spice.
What is Cinnamon?
Latin name: Cinnamomum zeylanicum
Also called: true cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon
Cinnamon is actually the inner bark of the cinnamon tree. When pieces of the bark are stripped off and dried, they curl up into the hard tubes, called a quills, that we put into hot cocoa.
Cinnamon is a sweet warm spice, with a mildly pungent flavor. It can be purchased as either cinnamon sticks (the dried bark or quill) or as a ground powder.
There are over 100 varieties of cinnamon but there are two that are most commonly used: Ceylon cinnamon and Chinese cinnamon, more commonly known as cassia. Ceylon cinnamon is considered the more prized variety as it is sweeter, softer and more subtly flavored. Cassia is the more commonly found version in North America and is probably what you are buying in your grocery store. If you want true Ceylon cinnamon, look for it in more upscale grocery stores or specialty stores.
Ceylon cinnamon comes from in Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, some Caribbean countries and Brazil, while Chinese cinnamon or cassia is mainly produced in China, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices to be used by man and has been used as a spice as well as medicinally for thousands of years. Cinnamon is actually mentioned in a Chinese book on botanical based medicines that dates from 4700 years ago!
Cinnamon is also mentioned in the Bible (Song of Solomon 4:13-14): “You are like a lovely orchard bearing precious fruit, with the rarest of perfumes; nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, and perfume from every other incense tree, as well as myrrh and aloes, and every other lovely spice.”
In ancient Egypt cinnamon was used to flavor beverages, but also used medicinally AND for embalming! Now that’s a multi use food.
There were times that cinnamon was so highly prized, it was considered more precious than gold. It was part of the spice trade between the Indian and Asian areas and the Mediterranean countries of Europe and Northern Africa.
The Health Benefits of Cinnamon
The essential oils found in cinnamon bark have been found to provide an amazing array of health benefits. So many that it is difficult to decide where to start.
Cinnamon for Blood Sugar Control
One of the big breakthroughs in diabetes research has been the discovery that cinnamon helps to lower blood sugar readings. How does it do that? Putting cinnamon on a food helps to slow down the rate that the food leaves the stomach. In doing so, it reduces the quick rise in blood sugar after eating a high carbohydrate containing food or meal.
Quite a bit of research is being done on the effects of cinnamon on lowering blood sugar and also on how it may improve the ability of the cells of Type II diabetics to use glucose.
In one study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers asked 14 healthy people to eat just over a cup of rice pudding. Some were given the rice pudding alone, while others ate the pudding seasoned with 6 grams or 1.2 teaspoons of cinnamon. The people who ate the pudding with the cinnamon were found to have an approximately 35% slower rate of gastric emptying. Consequently their blood sugar rise after eating was significantly less than the non-cinnamon group.
Researchers at the US Agricultural Research Service have shown that it doesn’t take much cinnamon to do the job – less than 1/2 a teaspoon of cinnamon per day can reduce blood sugar reading levels of Type II diabetics. (Look here for the difference between Type I and Type II diabetes) In fact, as little as one gram or (about 1/4 teaspoon) of cinnamon was enough to lower LDL cholesterol, blood sugar and triglycerides.
Over time, high levels of glucose in our blood (blood sugar) leads to several factors that contribute to heart disease. As a result of these experiments and findings, many research have begun to recommend that Type II diabetics include cinnamon in their diet on a regular basis to help reduce the increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Some scientists had expressed concern about the possible toxicity of consuming large amounts of cinnamon. However, it has been found through research that the potentially toxic substances in cinnamon are primarily located in the fat soluble component. It is the water soluble component of cinnamon bark that contains insulin improving compounds.
Cinnamon as an Antibacterial and Anti-fungal
One of the benefits of cinnamon is the antibacterial effect of its essential oils. Cinnamon has been proven to help stop the growth of bacteria, making it a natural food preservative. Research conducted at the University of Kansas found that when they added cinnamon extract to unpasteurized juice, it inhibited the development of E. coli bacteria.
Cinnamon has also been shown to prohibit the growth of yeasts and fungi, including Candida, a condition where the body has too much yeast. Those people suffering from frequent yeast infections may be wise to include cinnamon in their diet often or to look for cinnamon extract.
Here is another piece of research that supports cinnamon’s antimicrobial benefits. An article from the International Journal of Food Microbiology (Aug 2003) describes an experiment where cinnamon was added to carrot broth, then refrigerated. Just a few drops of essential oil of cinnamon prevented spoilage of the broth for 60 days.
Anti-clotting and Anti-Inflammatory Benefits of Cinnamon
An extract of cinnamon called cinnamaldehyde has been shown to have an anti-clotting effect on the blood.
The cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon prevents excessive clotting of blood platelets, allowing the blood to flow more freely.
This action is accomplished because cinnamon inhibits the release of a fatty acid from the membrane of the platelets. This fatty acid, called arachidonic acid, causes inflammation in the body and because the action of cinnamon inhibits its release, cinnamon delivers anti-inflammatory benefits to the body.
That same element in cinnamon, cinnamaldehyde, also helps to fight against the bacterial and fungal infections we discussed above (according to research conducted by the National Institutes of Health).
Other Benefits of Cinnamon
It appears that our favorite sweet spice, cinnamon, shows a lot of promise in health care. One piece of research conducted found that simply smelling cinnamon boosts cognitive function and memory. Could it help to prevent Alzheimer’s disease?
Cinnamon is filled with wonderful health benefits. It is a good source of manganese, fiber, iron, and calcium. It has been shown to help to lower LDL cholesterol levels, give arthritis relief, help treat muscle spasms, vomiting, diarrhea, infections and the common cold.
Please keep in mind that this research is preliminary and no one is saying we should eat cinnamon by the cup. In fact, in certain circumstances too much cinnamon may not be a good thing. In some people it can irritate the stomach or the skin. Something to notice when you eat cinnamon containing recipes.
People with known liver or kidney disease should talk to their health care professional before using large amounts of cinnamon.
For most of us though, it’s a great idea to include cinnamon in the diet on a very regular basis. Here is some more information about buying and storing cinnamon and how to use it.
Buying and Storing Cinnamon
Cinnamon can by purchased in two formats. You can buy the whole cinnamon quill, what we refer to as cinnamon sticks, or ground cinnamon.
Cinnamon sticks are good to have on hand. The whole stick is sometimes added to recipes of all kinds and they are perfect in hot drinks like tea, herbal teas or hot chocolate. Chefs like to grate their cinnamon right from the stick for freshness. For most of us ground cinnamon is what you will most often find in the cabinet.
As with all spices, buy cinnamon from a store where you know they have a high turnover of spices, so you can be guaranteed of freshness. Store both cinnamon sticks and ground cinnamon in a cool, dark cupboard. Ground cinnamon will remain fresh and delicious for at least 6 months, while cinnamon sticks are usually good for about a year. If it still smells like cinnamon when you open the container, it is good to go.
If you are particular and really want to ensure you have the best cinnamon you can get, make sure you have pure Ceylon cinnamon rather than the Chinese cinnamon, or cassia, that is more commonly found. It may be harder to find and more expensive.
As always, if you can find organic spices, including cinnamon, it does ensure that it has not been irradiated and lost much of it’s medicinal strength.
Using Cinnamon and Cinnamon Recipes
Although cinnamon is a great spice to use all year round, its “warm” taste tends to make us think of cool weather cooking. And for good reason. Cinnamon pairs perfectly with apples, pears and squash, all cool weather foods.
There is probably not anything you can make with apples that doesn’t benefit from an added bit of cinnamon. Apple and cinnamon are the perfect combination. Apple pie, apple crisp or crumble, baked apples and applesauce all taste even better with the addition of cinnamon.
You can easily make your own applesauce at home. Just peel and chop some apples, put them in a sauce pot with a tiny bit of water, a little sugar or sugar substitute and some cinnamon. Let it come to a boil, lower the heat and simmer it for 20 to 30 minutes. Perfect homemade applesauce.
Classic cinnamon toast is something many of us remember as a child. Butter toast and sprinkle with a mix of sugar and cinnamon. Today’s cinnamon toast is a bit healthier. Drizzle a healthy oil like flax seed oil or avocado or walnut oil on the toast instead of butter. Instead of white sugar think of honey or coconut sugar. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon.
Cinnamon is a nice addition to warm milk. Try warming almond milk or coconut milk and adding a few shakes of ground cinnamon. Hot chocolate, coffee and holiday eggnog are all wonderful with ground cinnamon or a cinnamon stick added.
I always add cinnamon to pancakes and waffles. Whatever your recipe, just add a 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of cinnamon to the dry ingredients. I also add chopped walnuts to the batter. A healthy twist on a traditional not-so-healthy breakfast.
Cinnamon is commonly used in several cuisines including Moroccan, Indian and Mexican. Many curry recipes call for cinnamon in their spice mix. Lamb with cinnamon is commonly found in Moroccan, Lebanese and other Mediterranean recipes.
Many Mexican recipes use cinnamon. It can be added to the black beans you use in burritos and it is a classic addition to mole sauce.
To find all the cinnamon recipes on the site simply type in the word cinnamon into the search box near the top left of any page on this site. Click to search and you will be brought to a large list of recipes, both sweet and savory, that include this healthy spice.
Bring on the cinnamon!!
This information is NOT meant as advice or to diagnose or treat any condition. Please check with your personal health care provider before making any major changes to your diet.
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