Spice of the Month: Cinnamon
The ancient Egyptians used cinnamon to embalm the dead, while wealthy Romans used it in love potions and perfumes. Today, cinnamon is a popular spice that can jazz up both sweet and savory dishes.
Cinnamon is the inner bark of the tropical evergreen tree. The bark is peeled from the tree during the rainy season and once dried, it curls into long sticks which are either cut and sold as cinnamon sticks or ground into powder.
The two main varieties of cinnamon are Ceylon cinnamon ( Cinnamomum zeylanicum) and cassia ( Cinnamomum cassia). Ceylon is considered “true cinnamon” and is pale in color with a mild, sweet flavor. Cassia cinnamon is also known as Chinese cassia or Indonesian cinnamon, and has a dark red-brown color. It has a more pungent flavor than Ceylon and is somewhat bittersweet.
One tablespoon of ground cinnamon contains 19 calories, 4 grams fiber, and 68 percent of your daily dose of manganese (which helps with bone formation). It also has 8 percent of the daily recommended amount of calcium and 4 percent of your daily recommended amount of iron. Cinnamon also contains several compounds that work as antioxidants such as cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate and cinnamyl alcohol.
Studies have found that eating one-fifth an ounce per day of cinnamon helped lower LDL (bad) cholesterol, total cholesterol, and triglycerides (a type of blood fat) in type-2 diabetics. An animal study also showed that type 2 diabetic rats given cinnamon extract had lower blood sugar levels. This is good news for diabetics, but more studies are needed.
Sprinkle ground cinnamon on your morning oatmeal, fruit salad, hot cocoa or French toast. Add it to rice pudding, cookies, cakes, muffins and pies. Combine with cumin, ginger and turmeric to flavor meat and poultry dishes like stews.
Cinnamon sticks can be ground using a coffee grinder or cheese grater. Or leave them whole and add to mulled cider or wine, tea, applesauce, oatmeal, curry dishes and puddings while cooking (remove the cinnamon stick before serving).
Choose cinnamon that has a sweet odor. Store sticks or ground cinnamon in a sealed container in a cool, dry place. Ground cinnamon will start to lose its flavor after 6 months, while sticks can maintain their quality for up to 1 year.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby's full bio »