Known since ancient times, cinnamon is an aromatic vegetable substance derived from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree. Its original shape looks like small tubes, but it is often consumed ground. Highly appreciated for its fragrant flavour, it is also rich in antioxidants that can be beneficial to health.
Active ingredients and properties
|Fibre in cinnamon?|
Spices are not the first food we think of when we talk about dietary fibre…. Yet, surprisingly, fibre makes up more than half the weight of ground cinnamon: a portion as small as 2 g of cinnamon (1 teaspoon) contains 1.3 g of fibre. It should be noted that it is recommended to consume 25 g of fibre per day for women aged 19 to 50 years, and 38 g per day for men in the same age group24.
Antioxidants. Antioxidants are compounds that protect the body’s cells from damage caused by free radicals. The latter are highly reactive molecules that are believed to be involved in the development of cardiovascular diseases, certain cancers and other age-related diseases1. A major review of the scientific literature ranked ground cinnamon as the fourth most antioxidant-rich food among the 50 foods per 100 g2 serving. Another study showed that the antioxidant activity of cinnamon could be increased when exposed to heat3. However, it should be kept in mind that a portion of cinnamon is usually much smaller than 100 g: one teaspoon, for example, is only 2 g. However, cinnamon is concentrated enough in antioxidants so that even a small portion can make a significant contribution to the total daily intake.
- Proanthocyanidins. According to a large American database, cinnamon is the food that contains the most proanthocyanidins per 100 g, after cocoa beans. Cinnamon contains more than 8,100 mg, almost 20 times more than 100 g of cranberries, and almost 25 times more than 100 g of wild blueberries4. Proanthocyanidins have demonstrated certain antioxidant properties in humans, for example by protecting blood cells and blood lipids against oxidative stress5. However, further studies are needed to better understand how the human body absorbs and uses cinnamon proanthocyanidins.
- Cinnamaldehyde (or cinnamyl aldehyde). Cinnamon is very rich in this volatile phenolic compound, with antioxidant power, with an amount that can exceed 17,000 mg per 100 g of dry matter6. An in vitro study on human blood samples showed that cinnamaldehyde had the ability to reduce the activity of 5-lipoxygenase, an enzyme associated with the development of inflammatory or allergic reactions (such as asthma, allergic rhinitis, psoriasis)7. Cinnamaldehyde is also reported to be one of the compounds that provides cinnamon with antimicrobial properties8. Indeed, for ages, spices such as cinnamon have been used to prolong food preservation. Studies on cinnamon extracts now show that it can help reduce the multiplication of several microorganisms8-11. However, the use of spices for this purpose does not exempt from the need to comply with sound hygiene and food safety measures.
Type 2 diabetes. Several in vitro and animal studies indicate that cinnamon contains compounds with insulin-like properties that are potentially beneficial in the treatment of diabetes12-17. In people with type 2 diabetes, daily consumption of 1 g to 6 g of ground cinnamon for 40 days18 or about 300 mg of cinnamon extract (corresponding to about 3 g of powdered cinnamon per day) for four months19 resulted in a significant decrease in blood glucose18,19 and some blood fats (total cholesterol, triglycerides, LDL cholesterol)18. Cinnamon thus appears to be a promising food for diabetes control, but some results are still contradictory and require further studies in humans20,21.
|Is cinnamon antioxidant?||Very strongly: its TAC index for a 2 g (5 ml) portion is 5,351 μmol|
|Is cinnamon acidifying?||Data not available|
|Does cinnamon have a high glycemic load?||Data not available|
Most important nutrients
Manganese. Ground cinnamon is a good source of manganese. Manganese acts as a cofactor of several enzymes that facilitate a dozen different metabolic processes. It also helps to prevent damage caused by free radicals.
Iron. Ground cinnamon is a source of iron for men only, with women’s needs being higher than those of men. Every cell in the body contains iron. This mineral is essential for oxygen transport and the formation of red blood cells. It also plays a role in the production of new cells, hormones and neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses). It should be noted that iron in foods of plant origin is less well absorbed by the body than iron in foods of animal origin. However, the absorption of iron from plants is favoured when consumed with certain nutrients, such as vitamin C.
|What is a “portion” of cinnamon worth?|
|Weight/volume||Ground cinnamon, 2 g (5 ml)|
|Dietary fibres||1,3 g|
Source: Health Canada. Canadian Nutrient File, 2005.
Irritation of the mouth
Cinnamon essence is commonly used in the industry to flavour certain foods (candy, chewing gum, etc.) and various pharmaceutical products such as toothpaste. However, this essence may cause oral irritation in some people. Dentists call this contact stomatitis phenomenon, an allergic reaction that can be characterized by small oral ulcers, lesions and inflammation of the gums or oral mucosa22. Women aged 30 to 60 would be at greater risk23. Avoiding chewing gum, toothpaste and other cinnamon flavoured products can prevent symptoms from appearing.
Cinnamon over time
|The term “cinnamon”, which appeared in the 12th century, comes from the Latin canna, which means “reed”, probably by allusion to the pipe shape that cinnamon bark sticks take when drying.|
The term “casse” appeared in 1256. It comes from the Latin cassia, which derives from the Greek kassia, which itself probably borrowed it from the Khasi people who lived in northern India from where cassia was exported. It refers to Chinese cinnamon, which comes from the species C. cassia.
Cinnamon is one of the oldest known spices. It appears in ancient Chinese, Sanskrit and Egyptian writings, as well as in the Old Testament. It is believed that it was originally used mainly for its medicinal properties as well as in religious ceremonies and magical rites. The Chinese, who made great use of it, already cultivated a species of cinnamon tree 2,500 years before our era. Elsewhere, people were content to exploit those who grew in the wild, sometimes in huge colonies.
With precious metals, jewellery and fine fabrics, cinnamon will travel the silk and spice route from India and China to Mesopotamia, then to the major cities of ancient Greece and Rome. Considered as precious as gold, it is extremely expensive, and only the rich class has access to it.
The Romans introduced it to the rest of Europe, but throughout the Middle Ages, it continued to command a high price, democratizing only during the Renaissance. Reserved for the nobles, its uses are much less so since it is essentially used to mask the bad smell of rotten food. It seems that the habit of spicing a dish simply to enhance its flavour is relatively recent in human history, as our ancestors were mainly concerned about surviving potential poisonings caused by foods in the process of advanced decomposition.
Gradually, cinnamon became so popular in French cuisine that by the end of the 16th century it accounted for 67% of all French recipes. Its trade, as well as that of pepper, would flourish, leading to fierce wars in order to control it.
A tree or shrub depending on the species, the cinnamon tree is native to the tropical regions of Asia. The bark is removed from the branches or young shoots and then dried after stripping it of its epidermis. As it dries, it curls up on itself, forming friable, tube-like sticks.
|There is cinnamon and cinnamon…|
The “real” cinnamon (or Ceylon cinnamon) is ochre in colour and the sticks, which are made of thin layers of bark (about one millimeter thick), are easily friable. Chinese cinnamon is a darker red, brownish colour, and the sticks are coarser and thicker (a few millimetres thick), less sweet and a little more bitter.
Several cinnamon tree species are exploited locally for their bark, but the cinnamon offered on the international market is generally supplied by Ceylon cinnamon tree (C. verum) and China cinnamon tree (C. cassia). These two species come from Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and the eastern Himalayas, northern India and Vietnam respectively. In Europe, Ceylon cinnamon is preferred, while in North America, it is mainly Chinese cinnamon that is consumed.
The cinnamon tree is now grown in all countries bordering the Indian Ocean as well as in the West Indies, Brazil and Guyana. In addition to the bark intended for the spice market, it is also used as an essential oil, widely used in confectionery and perfumery, as well as in cosmetics and pharmaceutical products, particularly to mask the flavour of certain medicines.
|Cinnamon is very well served with apples, for example in this.|
Here are some recipe suggestions for:
In Europe and North America, cinnamon is generally used in sweet dishes, but in North Africa, Greece and the East, it is cooked with salty dishes, especially meat and poultry. It is best to add the powder only towards the end of the cooking process, as it becomes bitter when it is cooked for too long. On the other hand, the sticks can withstand a long cooking time.
- Cinnamon is used in many traditional spice blends: Maghreb ras-el-hanout, Berber blend, Indian garam masala, Baharat from the Persian Gulf, dagga tunisen cake, French four-spice and five-spice or five Chinese fragrances.
- In tagines, spaghetti sauces, stews, chili (with or without meat), etc.
- In Moroccan pastilla: this sweet and salty holiday pie, of which there are many variants, is made up of several layers of brig pastry (if not, use philo pastry) between which are placed onions returned in oil; almonds returned in oil, drained, then chopped and seasoned with cinnamon; pine nuts; chopped hard-boiled eggs; and pieces of pigeon marinated for several hours in a mixture of spices (ras-el-hanout, cinnamon, saffron) and fresh herbs (parsley, coriander) and cooked for one hour in broth or water. (The pigeon can be replaced by chicken or other poultry.) The last layer of brick is sprinkled with butter and orange blossom water, then the pie is baked in a medium oven for about half an hour. It is then sprinkled with icing sugar and cinnamon, artistically arranged in crosspieces.
- In Sri Lankan and Indian curries, but also in dhals, these lentil dishes that are eaten throughout vegetarian India.
- Mediterranean Chicken Soup: made with broth and cubes of chicken, chickpeas, onions, tomatoes and small pasta, and seasoned with cumin, cinnamon, salt, pepper and parsley.
This type of cooking used in China has the effect of giving a beautiful red colour to the sauce. It consists of cooking meat or poultry in a liquid made of soy sauce, miso, sugar (or honey) and rice wine, seasoned with spices (cinnamon, ginger, star anise, lemon zest, fennel seeds, Sichuan pepper and licorice). The meats are first browned in oil to colour them. At the end of cooking, a little sesame oil is added.
- In the southern United States, meats are grilled after being coated with a sauce that includes molasses or sugar, soy sauce, lemon juice or lime, vinegar, garlic and many spices: Chinese cinnamon, ginger, hot pepper, thyme, coriander seeds, nutmeg, allspice, paprika, salt and pepper.
- Cinnamon rice: sauté cinnamon stick and cumin seeds for one minute in clarified butter, add turmeric, basmati rice and salt, and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Add twice as much water or broth as rice, cover and cook over low heat until rice is cooked through, then remove the cinnamon stick. You can sweeten with honey and sugar just before serving. A variation of this recipe: add cloves and allspice to other spices, as well as mint. Add a tomato and raisins when adding the broth.
- Or, replace rice with boulghour, kasha, barley, wild rice, quinoa, etc. This dish can be used as a stuffing for the turkey.
- Lightly sweetened vegetables such as sweet potato and squash are good with a little cinnamon.
- It is also essential in pumpkin pie.
- Cinnamon enhances pear, apple or plum compotes, or this dried fruit compote: cook prunes, dates and dried apricots in cinnamon and orange zest flavoured tea for fifteen minutes over low heat. Remove from heat, garnish with pinions and let cool.
- Toast slices of a good whole grain bread, butter them and sprinkle them with cinnamon.
- In buns, cakes, muffins, cookies, soufflés, ice creams and other desserts.
- In gingerbread, which, in its original version, contains only natural and complete ingredients: rye flour, honey, milk, egg yolks and spices (aniseed and coriander seeds, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, orange and lemon zest).
- You can flavor mulled wine, hot chocolate, coffee or tea with a cinnamon stick.
- Or make chai tea, a classic Indian cuisine: for three tea bags, use 1.25 litres of water and 250 ml of milk. Boil the liquids for a few minutes with cardamom seeds, a cinnamon stick and fresh or powdered ginger. Add the tea bags and simmer until the tea has the desired colour. Strain, sweeten with honey and serve hot.
- In Egypt, they prepare a drink called irfaby boiling a few minutes of water with cinnamon powder (1/2 teaspoon per 250 ml). Sweeten to taste and sprinkle with a mixture of chopped nuts.
In a cool, dry and dark place. Both sticks and powder quickly lose their aroma; therefore, keep them in an airtight container.