Week 48: Cinnamon
Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices known. It was used in ancient Egypt not only as a beverage flavoring and medicine, but also as an embalming agent. It was so highly treasured that it was considered more precious than gold. Cinnamon's popularity continued throughout history. Due to its demand, cinnamon became one of the first commodities traded regularly between the Near East and Europe.
All types of cinnamon belong to the same family of plants, called the Lauraceae family (other members of this family include avocados and bay leaves). In fact, there are more cinnamon species in this plant family (an estimated 2,000-2,500 total) than any other plant species.
There are two main categories of species of cinnamon, Ceylon and cassia. Ceylon cinnamon is produced in Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Brazil and the Caribbean, while cassia cinnamon is mainly produced in China, Vietnam and Indonesia. Most of the cinnamon imported into the U.S. is cassia cinnamon.
Nutrient Profile: Cinnamon is an excellent source of manganese and fiber and a very good source of calcium. Cinnamon's unique healing abilities come from three basic types of components in the essential oils found in its bark. These oils contain active components plus a wide range of other volatile substances.
Anti-clotting Actions: Cinnaldehyde in cinnamon helps prevent unwanted clumping of blood platelets by inhibiting the release of an inflammatory fatty acid called arachidonic acid from platelet membranes.
Anti-microbial Activity: Cinnamon has been studied for its ability to help stop the growth of bacteria as well as fungi, including the commonly problematic yeast Candida.
Blood Sugar Control: Cinnamon slows the rate at which the stomach empties after meals, thereby reducing the rise in blood sugar after eating. It may also significantly help people with type 2 diabetes by improving their ability to respond to insulin.
Improves Colon Health and Protects against Heart Disease: The presence of both calcium and fiber in cinnamon helps bind bile salts. It is this bile salt binding that helps prevent damage to colon cells, thus reducing the risk of colon cancer. In addition, when bile is removed by fiber, cholesterol levels decrease which can be helpful in preventing atherosclerosis and heart disease.
A Traditional Warming Medicine: Cinnamon has also been valued in energy-based medical systems, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, for its warming qualities. It has been used to provide relief when faced with the onset of a cold or flu, especially when mixed in a tea with some fresh ginger.
Selection and Storage: Cinnamon is available in either stick or powder form. While the sticks can be stored for longer, the ground powder has a stronger flavor. Try to select organically grown cinnamon since this will give you more assurance that it has not been irradiated. With irradiation, there may be a significant decrease in the vitamin C and carotenoid content.
Cinnamon should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place. Ground cinnamon will keep for about six months, while cinnamon sticks will stay fresh for about one year stored this way. Alternatively, you can extend their shelf life by storing them in the refrigerator. To check to see if it is still fresh, smell the cinnamon. If it does not smell sweet, it is no longer fresh and should be discarded.
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