Cinnamon is a spice that is obtained from the homonymous plant (Cinnamomum verum J.Presl, sin. C. zeylanicum Blume) widespread especially in Europe and Asia.
Origins and History –
Cinnamon is almost certainly one of the oldest spices, still used today in the form of small canes or sticks.
The name derives from the small-barreled shape it takes when it is dried for storage, and is the internal part obtained both from the bark of the young branches of Cinnamomum verum and Cinnamomum cassia.
In fact, it is the first, light hazel colored, with a penetrating but delicate aroma, to be called “real cinnamon”, “queen cinnamon” or “Cylon cinnamon”, and has always been much more valuable than the “cassia”, which is the reddish brown Chinese cinnamon with the strongest aroma.
Cinnamon has always covered, around itself, a myth and sacredness which is testified by myths and legends. According to one of these ancient myths, cinnamon was used by the Phoenix as a base for its nest. And this is exactly how this spice, welcoming the remains of the mythological animal, would acquire many of its therapeutic and curative abilities.
The same Ovid, in the Metamorphoses, connects the myth of the Phoenix to the sweet aroma of cinnamon, claiming that: after living 500 years, [the Phoenix] with the fronds of an oak tree builds a nest on top of a palm tree, we pile up cinnamon , spigonardo and myrrh, and he abandons himself on it, dying, exhaling his last breath among the aromas.
The history of cinnamon is thousands of years old: this spice was already used by the ancient Egyptians in 3000 BC. who used it for embalming.
It is also mentioned in the Bible, in the book of Exodus, when God orders Moses to consecrate the Temple with a mixture of aromatic substances.
Although this spice came from the East, both Greeks and Romans believed that it came from Arabia or Ethiopia and was collected in bizarre ways.
Herodotus narrated that cassia cinnamon was born in a shallow lake on the banks of which thousands of bat-like birds perched, ready to attack anyone who approached it.
To collect it, the Arabs wrapped their bodies and faces in ox skins.
Cinnamon was already known in the Mediterranean basin for its high value already in the classical era, and Pliny himself complained of its exorbitant price.
During the Middle Ages it represented one of the expensive gifts that nobles made to kings and queens as a symbol of prestige.
Its therapeutic principles were used to treat cough and sore throat, while its aromatic qualities were such that they made it used in abundance on every sweet or savory dish, making it inevitable in the court kitchen, together with pepper.
Cinnamon was an ingredient both in the famous “camellina” sauce (Taillevent recipe) and in the “verte souce”, mentioned in the cookbook of King Richard II of England (14th century).
Recall that in the Renaissance Nostradamus used it as a substance for its very powerful love filter, and Mattioli considered it so rare that it was difficult to find even in the markets of Venice and Naples.
Different were the evaluations on this spice. Although the Greek and Roman doctors classified this spice as hot and dry, they did not attribute particular aphrodisiac effects to it. On the other hand, the doctors of the Salerno School did the same thing and wrote on cinnamon: Accendit Venerem cum vaccae lacte recent … auget semper amorem, alleviat mentem, which translated means – excites coitus with fresh cow’s milk … always increases the stimuli of love, strengthens the intellect -.
In any case, the aphrodisiac properties of cinnamon were highlighted by doctors until the end of the sixteenth century, then over the centuries this aspect took second place compared to the aromatic qualities of the plant.
In the nineteenth century it was one of the four spices automatically considered in cookbooks when talking about “a pinch of spices or drugs” (the rest were nutmeg, cloves and pepper).
Cinnamon is an evergreen tree about 10-15 m tall. The leaves are opposite, oval and elongated, they can reach 18 cm in length and 5 cm in width. The white flowers are gathered in inflorescences. The fruit is a drupe that contains an egg-free seed.
Unlike the others, this spice is not obtained from the seed or from the fruit, but from the stem and twigs which, once cut, are dried, the outer bark is eliminated, as they further dry they take on the typical “cigar” or Hazelnut “parchment”. The cinnamon sticks must be crumbled or pulverized before use unless the recipe calls for full use.
Active principles –
The main components of cinnamon play a very important role, not only for food but also for therapeutic purposes.
Cinnamon contains about one percent of essential oil (eugenol, cinnamic aldehyde, etc.), tannins and polyphenols, including the “famous” epicatechins.
As for calories and nutritional values of cinnamon, 100 g of this spice contain 247 kcal, and: Proteins 3.99 g, Carbohydrates 80.59 g, sugars 2.17 g, Fats 1.24 g, dietary fiber 53.1 ge Sodium 10 mg.
In addition, cinnamon essential oil contains cinnamic aldehyde and eugenol. The essential oils that can be obtained from the leaves (1%), contain practically only eugenol (70-95%) and therefore are not used for therapeutic purposes while the root extracts contain almost exclusively camphor (60%) and therefore they also do not they are used for therapeutic purposes.
Properties and Uses –
Cinnamon has innumerable uses both in the food and therapeutic fields and is used, as mentioned, in many different ways for centuries.
Today cinnamon is appreciated not only for its sweet and delicate aroma, but also for its effects on the body. In the East it is traditionally used as a stimulant and to treat ailments such as colds, indigestion, rheumatism. The use of cinnamon in hot countries is largely due to its antiseptic power, the same that can be used in temperate climates to fight fever and flu. The polyphenols contained in this spice, whose activity in the body is comparable to that of insulin, also reduce blood sugar and prevent blood glucose from turning into fat storage.
As for its food use, Western tradition prefers it used in fruit desserts, especially apples, in the processing of chocolate, candies and pralines, as an aroma in creams, in whipped cream, in meringue, in ice creams and in numerous liqueurs; the oriental and creole tradition also uses it in savory, to accompany smoked and non-smoked meats. Both love it, however, as a tea flavoring.
In northern European countries, it is irreplaceable in sweets generally called “spice bread”, as well as in leavened pastries and pastries. In pastry, the cinnamon powder must be mixed with the dough when it is still raw and only towards the end of the processing.
As for medicinal uses, cinnamon has one of the highest antioxidant power (ORAC); an index of value 267536, about 62 times that of the apple, considered for its part an excellent antioxidant that contains tannins, cinnamic aldehyde in essential oil, eugenol (over 50 aromatic and terpenic compounds), camphor.
It is traditionally used against colds and as an antibacterial and antispasmodic, it is now scientifically recognized the ability to lower cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood, helping to relieve hypertension disorders; it also performs an antiseptic function on respiratory system disorders.
According to some research it would contribute to the regulation of postprandial glycaemia in both obese and normal weight patients; some research would show numerous beneficial effects of spice on diabetic patients, although some studies have not confirmed these results.
Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine use it for menstrual problems, in the treatment of fevers, in some intestinal disorders (it helps to slow down the fermentation and leavening activity of the intestine which cause swelling, flatulence and poor digestion) and for problems related to cold as it has a warming effect. Cinnamon essential oil has a strong antifungal activity and promotes peripheral circulation if rubbed on the skin.
Cinnamon could also help slow down the progression of Parkinson’s disease. The members of the Rush University Medical Center reported that they conducted new research based on a sample of mice with Parkinson’s disease. The research showed that the compounds contained in cinnamon could effectively mitigate some biomechanical, cellular and anatomical changes that occur in the brain of those suffering from Parkinson’s disease.
In addition, cinnamon essential oil has a strong antifungal activity and promotes peripheral circulation if rubbed on the skin. It should however be contraindicated in case of peptic ulcer, as this condition causes an excess of gastric acid and the consumption of cinnamon further aggravates this state.
On the market, cinnamon can be purchased both in powder and whole, but whole retains all its characteristics and aroma better.
For the use and storage of cinnamon, remember that cinnamon sticks retain their aroma when placed in tightly closed glass jars and away from sources of heat and light. Cinnamon powder is also preserved in the same way, although it loses much of its characteristics and aroma.
Normal stick cinnamon should be crumbled or pulverized before use unless directly indicated in the recipe.
The fragrance of cinnamon is mainly sweet, warm, with slightly spicy nuances with a pungent and dry aroma. Speaking of cinnamon in the kitchen, in the case of creams, infusions, or in any case liquids that require boiling, the aromatization of the latter simply requires a few minutes of boiling the sticks. Instead, in the case of baked desserts or which do not allow a preventive “perfume” with the latter, we suggest using the powdered format.
Its organoleptic characteristics make it the perfect partner for sweet recipes: it is not uncommon to find it, as mentioned, as the aroma of creams, puddings, biscuits, herbal teas and the like. It is often associated with ginger, both for their flavors that blend perfectly in a delicious mix, and for the combined properties of the two spices.
Adding to rice during cooking helps to reduce its relatively high glycemic index, allowing control of blood sugar levels after a meal.
In pastry, cinnamon powder is added to the dough when it is still raw towards the end of the processing.
Traditional regional products are cinnamon, gingerbread or Carthusian (Bologna), spongata (Modena), apple strudel and Trentino zelten.
The oriental tradition also uses it a lot in savory pre-meals, as an accompaniment to smoked and non-smoked meats.
As mentioned, it is also used to flavor tea.
Cinnamon can be used to promote digestion after lunch; in this case it is recommended to take a piece of cinnamon in the bark and boil in a cup of water, after which it is left to boil for 10 minutes, and it is drunk hot; will aid digestion.
For digestion problems, an infusion of 8-10 grams of cinnamon bark per liter of water can be taken. In the case of bronchitis and respiratory infections, use the essence of cinnamon, a few drops diluted in water spray. Another option is to drink a glass of cinnamon mulled wine to help flu states.
In rheumatism it is recommended to rub the affected part with cinnamon essential oil.
In the menstrual period it is customary to take an infusion based on 8 to 10 grams of cinnamon bark per liter of water.
In this case, boil the water for 15 minutes with the infusion of the cinnamon bark, drink cold a few times a day without sweetening.
Warning: The information shown is not medical advice and may not be accurate. The contents are for illustrative purposes only and do not replace medical advice.