Cinnamon continues to accent our lives
As a typical American kid, your introduction to this spice probably was on French toast, swirled into a decadent sweet roll that Grandma made, or in your first taste of classic apple pie.
In India, Mexico, the Caribbean and China, however, youngsters are used to it in the main course at the dinner table — as part of a curry sauce, mole, jerk rub or five-spice, perhaps.
“Cinnamon is one of the world’s best-loved spices,” according to Al Goetze, vice president of global spice procurement for McCormick and Co. Inc., Hunt Valley, Md. Cinnamon is considered to be one of the oldest spices known to mankind, he adds, used first in China as early as 2500 B.C. for medicine and in Egypt for preserving pharoahs.
The history of this little, innocent-looking rolled stick — the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree — is filled with mystery and intrigue. Believing its fragrance to be sacred, ancient Romans burned cinnamon at funerals — it also conveniently covered the smell of burning flesh. A famous, but particularly notorious, use of this warm spice was by Roman Emperor Nero (A.D. 54 to 68) who, after murdering his wife, attempted to make amends by ceremoniously burning her body with a year’s worth of cinnamon.
Other Europeans at that time believed it was an aphrodisiac or had medicinal qualities. Modern scientific research is finding that cinnamon as medicine might be based in fact — recent studies on animals show that cinnamon enhances the ability of insulin to metabolize glucose, helping to control blood sugar levels.
During the 15th and 16th centuries, cinnamon was one of the first spices sought during European explorations, Goetze says. “Some people say that the search for cinnamon indirectly led to the discovery of America.”
Translated from Malaysian, cinnamon means “sweet wood.” The tree, called Cinnamomum zeylanicum (considered “true” cinnamon), is related to bay laurel, avocado and sassafras.
What is sometimes referred to as “false” or “fake” cinnamon — from the Cinnamomum arotmaticum or Cinnamomum cassia tree, a member of the same family as the genuine spice — has a stronger flavor, thus requiring less in recipes, and a coarser texture. It also is a darker red-brown color and has a slightly more bitter flavor than true cinnamon. Sometimes it is labeled Chinese cinnamon.
Much of the cinnamon sold in the United States is cassia or a combination of cassia and true cinnamon. Cassia is grown in Eastern countries — Indonesia is a leading producer — and in Southeast Asia, including China.
Goetze says the most popular cinnamon is this country is a cassia called Korintji, named for its growing region in Indonesia. It has a mild red-hot flavor, followed by a “pleasantly woody note.” A new favorite, he says, is called Saigon (Vietnam) with a spicy-sweet, big and bold flavor. It is considered the premier cinnamon in the world.
True cinnamon, often labeled Ceylon cinnamon, still is grown in what is believed to be its native country, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), and in India, Brazil and Indonesia. Some historians maintain, however, that true cinnamon is native to the West Indies.
How can you tell what kind of cinnamon stick you’ve boughtâ¢ According to Peggy Trowbridge, director of the Web site homecooking.about.com, it depends on the way the bark rolls on the sticks, or “quills.” Ceylon cinnamon curls in one direction, looking like a jellyroll from the side. Cassia rolls inward from both sides, to resemble a scroll.
All varieties of cinnamon can be used interchangeably in recipes, Goetze says. What you use depends on individual preference. If you’d like to do a taste test, Cinnamomum zeylanicum — the choice of cinnamon connoisseurs — as well as a variety of cassias is available at specialty food stores, including Penzeys Spices in Squirrel Hill, (412) 422-3702, and on the Internet. McCormick features Indoneasian cassia in its basic spice line plastic bottles and Saigon cassia in its Gourmet Collection, packaged in glass.
Enjoy cinnamon in the following recipes:
Mandarin Pork Medallions
This is quick enough for the busiest weekday. Serve with sugar snap peas and new potatoes. From the National Pork Board.
- 1 pound pork tenderloin
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1/4 cup orange marmalade
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1 (10 ounces) can mandarin orange segments, drained
Slice the tenderloin crosswise into 8 pieces. Flatten slightly.
Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the pork for about 1 minute per side. Combine the orange juice and marmalade, cinnamon, lemon juice and cornstarch. Add to the skillet; cook and stir until thickened.
Reduce the heat to low; cover and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes. Remove to a serving platter and garnish with the mandarin oranges.
Makes 4 servings.
Apple Harvest Pockets
These seasonal treats go together quickly when using refrigerated pie crusts. The recipe is from Pillsbury.
- 1 (15 ounces) package refrigerated pie crusts, softened as directed on package
- 2 cups diced peeled apples
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Unfold the crusts and place on a cutting board. Press out the fold lines and cut each crust into quarters, making 8 wedges.
Combine the apples, sugar, flour and cinnamon. Top the half of each crust wedge with 1/3 cup apple mixture. Fold the untopped sides of the wedges over the filling.
Using a fork, press the edges to seal. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and cut several small slits in the top of each to allow steam to escape.
Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until light golden brown. Serve warm or cool.
Petite Pumpkin Patch
Cinnamon is the crowning glory to this fun dessert, from Edy’s Grand Ice Cream.
- 4 tiny pumpkins, about 3 inches in diameter
For the Warm Caramel Sauce:
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup prepared caramel sauce
- Butter pecan ice cream
- Ground cinnamon, to taste
Using a knife, pierce the bottom of each pumpkin in 3 or 4 places. Microwave on high power for 6 to 7 minutes, until the pumpkins are tender when pierced. Let cool.
Slice off the tops and scoop out the seeds and pumpkin meat, leaving the shells intact. Reserve the tops.
To prepare the caramel sauce: In a deep microwaveable bowl, heat the butter on high power until melted, for 45 to 60 seconds. Stir in the sugar and egg. Microwave the butter mixture on 50 percent power until the sugar dissolves and the sauce thickens, for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring once during cooking. Cool slightly, then stir in the caramel sauce.
To assemble: Place 1 pumpkin shell in the middle of each dessert plate. Add a large scoop of ice cream in the center of each pumpkin. Pour the warm caramel sauce over the ice cream and around the pumpkin. Dust with cinnamon and place the pumpkin tops to the side of the shells.
Makes 4 servings.
Moroccan Spice Braised Chicken
with Dates and Almonds
Traditional North African ingredients, such as dates and almonds, bring sweetness and texture to the golden-colored sauce in this dish, accented by sweet-hot cinnamon.
- 3 1/2 pounds chicken parts
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, halved, cut into 1/4-inch slices
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 (14 1/2 ounces) can chicken broth
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 (14 1/2 ounces) can chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup pitted quartered dates (about 6 ounces)
- 1/3 cup whole blanched almonds
Coat the chicken with flour. Over medium heat, heat the oil in a large deep skillet or Dutch oven. Add half of the chicken and brown for about 5 minutes per side. Remove from the skillet. Repeat the browning step with the remaining chicken, adding the onion. Return all of the chicken to the skillet.
Combine the cinnamon, cumin, ginger,and turmeric in a small bowl; add to the chicken. Stir to evenly coat the chicken and onion with spices and saute for 1 to 2 minutes.
Stir in the broth, lemon juice and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir in the dates and almonds and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Uncover and simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
McCormick and Co Inc. offers these suggestions for ground cinnamon and cassia: