The last I used my bottle of cinnamon was baking my favourite fruitcake during the year-end festive season. What did I do with the leftover cinnamon? Well, I didn’t waste it. Of course, not. I sprinkled a bit of it into my must-have morning cup of coffee. It was amazing, loved the aroma and taste. Now, it has become my favourite drink of the morning. Here comes my next question, what are the health benefits of cinnamon? I am pretty sure you would want to know.
Read on to find out its benefits. Once known, you are not going to waste the leftover. You may want to quickly reach out to your bottle of cinnamon to check the expiry date.
Let’s begin by looking into some information about this amazing spice.
What is Cinnamon
Cinnamon is an aromatic spice obtained from the inner bark of the Cinnamomum tree. It is available in either whole quill form (cinnamon sticks) or as ground powder. Used in both sweet and savoury foods, ground cinnamon with its warm sweet aromatic flavour is widely used in baking, while cinnamon sticks add a slightly spicy flavour to meat, fish, vegetable or rice dishes.
Cinnamon’s unique flavour comes from the essential oils of the plant, which comprise about one percent of the spice’s composition.
Origins of Cinnamon
It is not known how long people starting using cinnamon, but there are some written records of its use. It was mentioned in the Old Testament as an ingredient in anointing oil. Egyptians used it during the embalming process. Many accounts say that Emperor Nero burned a large amount of the precious cinnamon at the funeral pyre for his wife in 65 AD to atone for his role in her death.
During the Middle Ages, the Arabs transported cinnamon through cumbrous land paths, resulting in a limited and expensive supply. This made the use of cinnamon a status symbol in Europe. However, many people needed the spice for a very practical reason. Cinnamon is used as a preservative for meats during the winter. Some people believed it has medicinal value too and used the spice to treat conditions such as indigestion.
Cinnamon and other spices like clove and nutmeg played a key role in Europe’s expansion into Asia. By the 17th century, it had become the most profitable, in spice trading.
Somewhere around 1518, Portuguese traders discovered cinnamon at Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka. They seized its island kingdom of Kotto, enslaved its population and gained control of the cinnamon trade. In 1638, the Dutch overthrow the Portuguese occupiers and monopolised the cinnamon trade for the next 150 years. In 1784, the British took over after their victory in the fourth Anglo-Dutch war. However, by 1800, cinnamon was no longer an expensive, rare commodity as it had started to be cultivated in other parts of the world.
How many types of Cinnamon
Typically, there are two types of cinnamon. The more expensive Ceylon cinnamon, also known as true cinnamon, is grown in Sri Lanka. Its colour is lighter and has a mild, sweet taste.
Cassia cinnamon, sometimes called Chinese or Saigon cinnamon, comes from trees grown in China, Vietnam or Indonesia. This is more pungent and spicy with a deeper colour.
Ceylon and Cassia cinnamon come from two different, but related trees. The Scientific name for Ceylon cinnamon is Cinnamomum Verum and for Cassia is Cinnamomum Cassia.
How Cinnamon is Made
Cinnamon farmers shave the outer bark off the trees which is soft. Then, shave the inner bark which is the cinnamon layer.
The cinnamon is then dried for use. During the drying process, it naturally curls into “quills”. These quills are then cut into sticks or grind into powder.
What Are the Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Cinnamon has antidiabetic effect as it helps lower blood sugar levels. Also, it can improve sensitivity to the hormone insulin which keeps blood sugar levels balanced.
Cinnamon has been shown to reduce the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream after a meal. This is by interfering with digestive enzymes which slows the breakdown of carbohydrates in the digestive tract.
Since cinnamon has a naturally sweet taste that is devoid of sugar, adding it to foods and drinks can help reduce sugar intake. Thus, making it an extremely healthy addition to many meals.
Remember though, people who already have diabetes, cinnamon is NOT an alternative to medication. This is just one of the ways for people with pre-diabetes who are interested in using diet to manage their blood sugar.
Contains Anti-inflammatory Properties
Cinnamon has several compounds with anti-inflammatory properties that can lower the probability of cellular damage and chronic disease. Flavonoid compound alone in cinnamon is very effective at fighting dangerous inflammation levels throughout the body.
Since cinnamon can reduce swelling and inflammation, it is beneficial in pain management, where it helps to relieve muscle soreness, severe allergic reactions and other pain symptoms that are age-related.
Fights Infections and Viruses
Cinnamaldehyde, the main component of cinnamon helps fight numerous kinds of infection by inhibiting the growth of various microbes including bacteria, molds, fungi, dermatophytes etc.
Besides the immune-boosting abilities found in cinnamon’s essential oil, it also has protective abilities against various bacteria which can cause negative symptoms in the digestive tract, on the skin’s surface and can lead to colds or flu.
Cinnamon’s antimicrobial effects may also help prevent tooth decay and diminish bad breath.
Loaded with Antioxidants
Cinnamon is packed with antioxidants like polyphenols, phenolic and flavonoids. These compounds work to fight oxidative stress in the body, which can lead to disease formation if not controlled.
Oxidative stress is the cause of today’s modern health problems such as heart diseases, cancer, neurodegeneration and etc.
Oxidative stress is the body’s natural process that produces free radicals that protect us from viruses and bacterial infection.
However, the excess amount of free radicals caused by increased oxidative stress can damage cells and its DNA changing their functionality. These result in an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells.
The high amount of antioxidant is required to reduce the activity of free radicals. It neutralises free radicals protecting from cellular damage.
Protects the Heart
A compound in cinnamon has been shown to help lower the levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides, while HDL “good” cholesterol remains stable. High cholesterol causes heart problems such as stroke and heart attack.
Cinnamon can be used as part of a natural approach to reducing high cholesterol levels.
Cinnamon also improves blood circulation and advances bodily tissue’s ability to repair itself when damaged. This includes tissue which is in need of regeneration in order to fight heart attacks and stroke.
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Beside Health Benefits
Cinnamon can be used as a skin and lip plumper, face mask, breath freshener and dry skin scrub.
As an air freshener, all-purpose cleaner, ant and moth repellent and as a decorative element.
Buying and Storing Cinnamon
Cinnamon can be purchased in the form of stick or powder. Cinnamon sticks retain their essential oils better and thus often have a more pungent flavour.
When buying cinnamon sticks, in order to determine whether they are Ceylon, which is more expensive than Cassia, look at the end of the stick. Ceylon cinnamon has a thinner, more brittle bark than Cassia. When it is rolled, it has multiple layers as it is thinner. Whereas, Cassia cinnamon stick which is thicker, only a single layer can be seen.
Unfortunately, there is no way of distinguishing cinnamon powders between Ceylon and Cassia. The only way is to rely on the product information label or call the manufacturer.
Cinnamon should be stored in an air-tight container and in a cool, dry place. Cinnamon sticks can be kept for approximately one year, while cinnamon powder for about six months.
Precautions – Coumarin in Cinnamon and Liver Damage
Cassia cinnamon contains a high amount of a compound called coumarin. It is a naturally occurring plant compound that is toxic to the liver and kidney. Thus, it is recommended to limit the consumption of cinnamon to 2 – 4g (1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder is about 4g) per day and not for more than a few weeks in a stretch.
Ceylon cinnamon’s low levels of coumarin make it a better choice to use as a medical supplement. Cassia cinnamon is still beneficial, as long as it is consumed as recommended above.
How You and I Use Cinnamon
Many of us have taken cinnamon in one form or another. I loved it with my coffee and sometimes with oatmeal too. Not forgetting my favourite fruitcake. Yes, cinnamon buns too.
The best cinnamon coffee can be made at home with your normal coffee. Simply sprinkle a pinch of ground cinnamon into it and enjoy your cuppa!
How about you? I look forward to knowing your experience with cinnamon. Perhaps you want to share a recipe. Now that you know what are the health benefits of cinnamon, would you consider using it more if you haven’t already? Drop me a line or two at the comments section below.
Before you leave, remember this
If you are taking cinnamon as a medical supplement, always check with your health-care provider. Especially if you are diabetic or has liver or kidney problems.
Since Ceylon cinnamon is more expensive than Cassia, do make sure you got what you paid for. Here is the difference between Ceylon and Cassia cinnamon at a glance:
Cinnamon sticks or powder, regular coffee or cinnamon, you can easily and conveniently purchase on Amazon. If you intend to use cinnamon as a health supplement, you can take a closer look at Amazon too. But remember to always check with your health-care provider.
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From the Corner of My Home – Spice Up Your Life with Herbs and Spices.