By Lori Foster of Spice of Life
What gets us more in the mood for fall and awakens our senses? Think warm, sweet flavors dancing on our tongue, soothing aroma floating through the air, memories of friends and family gatherings. No other spice says fall than the rich and captivating appearance of cinnamon.
Cinnamon can be as simple or complex as you want it to be, and can be by our side whichever direction we choose. Keeping traditions alive through our foods, cinnamon stands high on the list of spices our ancestors used. From sweet desserts to savory dishes, adaptable in all sorts of global cuisines from Peruvian to Moroccan, curries to apple pie. Cinnamon has played a role in our everyday lives and has become our friend of comfort and adventure. Let’s discover more about this exciting and powerful aromatic!
The history of cinnamon is almost as rich as its taste, reaching as far back as biblical times and traveled many routes along the spice trade. Various species of cinnamon have been intermingled throughout history and confusion has followed this exotic spice. Even today the name “cinnamon” refers to several different varieties with much hesitation on which one to choose.
Cinnamon (cinnamomum verum) is indigenous to Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) and is the inner bark of an evergreen tree in the Laurel family. “True Cinnamon”, Ceylon cinnamon, exposes its sweet, woody aroma with a smooth and delicate flavor, yet intense. “Saigon” cinnamon, grown in Vietnam, is rich in volatile oils and is a close relative to Ceylon cinnamon. It has a more pronounced and complex flavor. “Cassia”, often referred to as cinnamon, is in the same family but offers a much more pungent and astringent edge compared to Ceylon cinnamon. Cinnamon sticks, also called quills, are typically Cassia and are thicker and more difficult to grind than the thinner Saigon chips or sticks. Depending on what flavor profile you are looking for and how you are using it can help decide which variety you choose. Which one you use is simply a matter of personal preference.
Now let’s have some fun! Bananas fried in butter and flavored with cinnamon, baked apples dusted with cinnamon, mulled wine infused with cinnamon and orange, hot chocolate layered with chili and cinnamon, eggnog commingling with nutmeg and cinnamon, adventurous Indian curries, Moroccan tagine lamb and chicken dishes. I could go on and on.
I’m sure you have your treasured recipes or new creations that have delighted your taste buds.
A few companion spices that compliment cinnamon include clove, allspice, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla, mace, turmeric, tamarind, star anise, cardamom, chili, coriander, cumin. The combinations are endless and there are plenty of opportunities to play around with and explore.
What would chai tea be without the intimate relationship with cinnamon? Ginger, black pepper, allspice, cardamom, clove and black tea are some of the typical spices blended with cinnamon to create classic chai with lots of wiggle room for variations.
Storing spices correctly and choosing the best quality herbs is paramount to the end results. It can be the defining moment where your meal will be remembered or forgotten. The best way to store spices is in airtight glass jars and kept away from heat and moisture.
Be careful not to shake your spice jar over a pot where the steam will works its way into the jar or storing your spices next to a hot stove or oven. Typically ground spices last one year and whole spices 3-5 years. Some prefer to store their spices in the refrigerator or freezer. I would just caution to be careful of condensation that can build up because of temperature change bringing them in and out when using.
Being mindful of the quality you choose plays a big part in the flavors as well as your health. Look for the freshest spices possible, vibrant in taste and color and should be free of added ingredients such as anti-caking agents and preservatives. Choose spices and herbs that are “non-irradiated”. This is where the spices have gone through a process of ionized radiation in order to increase the shelf life and kill possible bacteria on the spices.
Research has shown that not only is cinnamon a powerhouse for flavor but the health benefits are worthy of attention. This warming spice may be useful in treating digestive issues, help fight colds and flu, high blood pressure, relieve nausea, stimulate appetite, and boost our immune system. The nutritional profile of cinnamon contains essential oils, tannins, coumarin, calcium, iron and vitamin K. Those with arthritis may benefit from its anti-inflammatory properties as well.
Cinnamon has been woven into our daily lives and has captivated our senses. It is one of the most commonly used spices today yet so much curiosity and wonder surrounds its personality.
I encourage you to become close friends with this fascinating ingredient, think outside the box in your kitchen, and most of all, have fun creating recipes that will give birth to new holiday memories.
Lori is a spice purveyor and owns Spice of Life in downtown Paso Robles. Exploring spices, herbs and teas has been a long time passion.