We’re talking about my favorite spice today: cinnamon! From adding warmth and depth to dishes to being packed with health benefits, cinnamon is a spice that many of us consume regularly without knowing much about it. So let’s get better acquainted with this popular spice.
Cinnamon comes from the bark of several species of Cinnamomum evergreen trees and has been used since ancient times for both flavoring and in religious rituals.
In the middle ages, the use of cinnamon was a sign of wealth in Europe, as it was quite pricey to get your hands on. Now a days, cinnamon is a common spice that often evokes thoughts of warmth and comfort, especially in the Fall.
There are two types of cinnamon: ceylon, which is “true” cinnamon, and cassia, which is the more common variety that most of us have in our spice cabinets. We’ll get to the differences between these two in the How to Select section.
When cinnamon is extracted from the bark, it dries and curls up, forming cinnamon sticks that many of us are familiar with. These sticks can then be ground into powder.
The aroma of cinnamon is largely thanks to its essential oils, which are also responsible for its many health benefits.
Before we start talking about research into the potential health benefits of cinnamon, let’s do a quick nutritional run-down.
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon contains just 6 calories, 1 gram of fiber, and 0 grams of fat. It also provides about 2.6% of the daily value for calcium and small amounts of potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, and vitamin K.
While cinnamon is a low calorie way to add a serious punch of flavor, it’s all-start quality comes from its antibacterial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties.
When compared to 25 other spices, cinnamon was the clear winner in regards to levels of antioxidants. And because of these antioxidants, cinnamon is being studied for its potential to protect against chronic disease, particularly heart disease.
As for blood sugar control, there is promising evidence that cinnamon can help type 2 diabetics better control their blood sugars when consumed in addition to a healthy diet and diabetic medications. However, make sure to talk with an RD and your doctor before going out and buying cinnamon supplements!
CInnamon does contain a compound called coumarin, which if consumed at very high levels can result in liver damage in some individuals. While research is ongoing into how much cinnamon is safe to consume, the European Food Safety Authority recommends limiting cinnamon intake to 1 teaspoon of cassia cinnamon per day. As ceylon contains much lower amounts of coumarin, the current recommendation is no more than 2.5 teaspoons of ceylon cinnamon per day.
How to select
Ceylon vs/. Cassia
Okay, so besides coumarin composition, what’s the difference between cassia and ceylon cinnamon? And which should I pick?
Ceylon cinnamon is native to southern India. It has a tan-brown color and the stick-form has softer layers than cassia. Flavor-wise, it has a more delicate flavor than cassia, with a distinct sweetness that’s perfect for desserts. Unfortunately, ceylon is less common than cassia, making it much more expensive. It’s a good one to save for special occasions or if taking for health purposes.
Cassia cinnamon on the other hand is originally from southern China, and frequently known as Chinese cinnamon. It tends to be darker in color than ceylon and the sticks are much thicker. Flavor-wise, it is much stronger and spicier than ceylon.
Which is healthier? While ceylon and cassia likely have different health benefits thanks to their differing essential oil types, research hasn’t actually examined the differences yet. However, cassia seems to have more negative side effects at lower doses compared to ceylon.
Stick vs. Ground
Cinnamon sticks are perfect for steeping in a hot liquid, such as tea or mulled wine. Sticks can also be used in savory dishes, especially one’s made in a slow cooker.
Ground cinnamon is your go-to for most situations. From sweet to savory, it can be sprinkled onto ready-to-eat dishes, such as oatmeal, used in a dry rub for meats, or baked into muffins or cookies.
How to store
Cinnamon sticks should be stored in an airtight container in a dry, dark place for up to one year. If your cinnamon sticks no longer smell sweet, it’s a sign that they’ve gone stale and should be thrown out.
Ground cinnamon, like all ground spices, has a shorter shelf-life than whole sticks. It should also be stored in an airtight container in a dark, dry place, but it lasts for only about 6 months.
How to use in cooking/baking
While we alluded to some of the uses above, cinnamon can be used in everything from baking to savory dishes to hot beverages. The key is that a little goes a long way, so use sparingly. Some of my favorite ways to use cinnamon are stirred into overnight oats, added to blueberry smoothies, and baked into banana bread.
While there are a bunch of recipes on THT featuring cinnamon, here are a few favorites to get you started:
- Protein Cinnamon Roll Overnight Oats
- Skinny Cheesecake Bars with Baked Apple Topping
- Oatmeal Cookie Dough Date Bites
What are your favorite ways to incorporate cinnamon? I’d love to hear in the comments below!