Studies Prove More Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Cinnamon, one of the oldest spices known to man, has long been a cherished food sweetener. In ancient history, cinnamon was regarded as rare and precious, and was even considered more of a treasure than gold! In addition to being used as a spice, the medicinal benefits of cinnamon date back centuries, and in more recent times it’s status as a “super food” has been cemented.
Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic practices believe that cinnamon can boost the immune system by improving vitality, purifying the blood, stimulating circulation, and increasing overall energy.
In these traditions, cinnamon is often used to treat digestive conditions such as nausea and diarrhea, respiratory conditions and painful menstruation.
The health benefits of cinnamon are numerous, from helping to lower blood sugar levels to helping fight against bacterial and fungal infections. Cinnamon has been linked as a possible aid in the battles against diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and Multiple Sclerosis.
Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of the aromatic Cinnamomum tree. The tree’s brown bark is peeled away from the branches and as it dries it curls up into tubes known as “quills.”
There are two major types of cinnamon used in food preparation: Ceylon cinnamon which is native to Sri Lanka and known as “true cinnamon, and Cassia cinnamon which is mainly grown in Indonesia and China. Cassia cinnamon is less expensive and is the variety most commonly found in your local market. However, Ceylon is the preferred variety as it is regarded as a higher quality spice with a bolder flavor and fragrance.
Ceylon is lighter in color and it’s quills, or sticks, are a hard wood-like texture whereas Cassia quills are hollow and break apart easily.
It is important to note that in powder form it is almost impossible to tell the difference between the two varieties.
A major difference between Ceylon and Cassia cinnamon is the content of coumarin, a naturally occurring organic compound found in many plants that has blood thinning and anti-tumor properties. It should be noted that there have been some studies linking high intakes of coumarin to liver damage in a small number of susceptible individuals when consumed in high amounts. (Keep in mind though that parsley, celery and chamomile also contain coumarin.) However, one way to get the healthy benefits minus any worry is to simply consume Ceylon cinnamon instead of Cassia cinnamon.
A study published by the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry reported that Ceylon cinnamon contains very little coumarin as compared to significantly larger amounts contained in Cassia cinnamon.
Both the Ceylon and Cassia varieties get their flavor and fragrance from cinnamaldehyde, a golden-yellow colored naturally occurring essential oil found in the bark of the Cinnamomum tree. The oil on its own is often used as a flavoring agent or as a scent for candles, and has also been found to be a good non-toxic pesticide.
There is ongoing research surrounding the use of cinnamon as a food preservative. Studies are showing that cinnamon extracts may inhibit foodborne bacterias such as e.coli and salmonella in common foods such as breads, meats and juices. The compound believed to inhibit the foodborne bacteria is cinnamaldehyde.
Several other antioxidant spices, including rosemary, cloves, sage and thyme are also being studied for their ability to protect food from all of the bacteria and microbes that can spoil it.
Cinnamon’s main claim to fame, though, is as an antioxidant. Cinnamon contains high levels of polyphenols, a class of chemical compounds that have been shown to possess antioxidant properties, which is of great interest to researchers and food manufacturers. According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition:
“The chief reason for this interest is the recognition of the antioxidant properties of polyphenols, their great abundance in our diet, and their probable role in the prevention of various diseases associated with oxidative stress, such as cancer and cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases.”
Cinnamon additionally contains high levels of the mineral manganese, which is one of the most powerful natural antioxidants that exist. In fact, cinnamon is known to be one of the most powerful antioxidants in nature!
Cinnamon is a staple in many Indian, Moroccan, Middle Eastern and Greek dishes as it compliments a wide variety of foods and other spices. It is delicious sprinkled on your favorite fruit or added to your morning coffee or tea in place of sugar.
Cinnamon is a great addition to curries, and adding a handful of raisins and a cinnamon stick or two to sautéed vegetables makes for a dish with a Middle Eastern flair.
In general, all spices should be stored in a sealed glass container kept in a cool, dark and dry location, and whole spices have a longer shelf life than ground. Whole cinnamon sticks can last for 1-2 years while ground cinnamon will keep for around six months. Spices kept for longer than these periods do not necessarily “go bad,” they simply lose some of their flavor and fragrance.
For more about this wonderful spice read: Cinnamon: The Multi-Purpose Miracle Spice!