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Cinnamon is one of the most commonly found condiments in our kitchen. You may have probably seen your mom using it for a variety of delicious dishes as well as some not so delicious concoction which you had to force down your throat at the time of a bad flu or cold. Its aromatic and flavouring properties makes it a frequently used additive to sweet and savoury dishes as well as for a plethora of other health and personal care uses. Along with satisfying your taste buds, cinnamon does wonders to your health!
Let’s find out some interesting facts about the origin and cultivation, nutrition value, and the multiple benefits of the brown coloured spice.
Origin and Cultivation of Cinnamon:
The cinnamon plant is a small, evergreen bushy tree belonging to the family of Lauraceae or Laurel of the genus, Cinnamomum. Cinnamon is native to South Asian countries including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Myanmar. Many different cultivars of cinnamons exist; however, Sri Lankan variety widely considered as “true cinnamon” (Cinnamonum verum.) Cassia, also known as Chinese cinnamon, is a different member of Lauraceae family and named as Cinnamomum cassia. Cassia is coarser, more spicy, and pungent but less fragrant than cinnamon. It is usually substituted for the cinnamon in savoury dishes.
The use of cinnamon can be dated back to Ancient Egypt wherein people used cinnamon to embalm mummies. It was also used as a flavouring agent for wine.
Cinnamon is obtained from the inner bark of several tree species from the genus Cinnamomum. The bark and the leaves of the tree are primarily used for the cultivation of cinnamon. The tree is grown for two years, followed by which the stem is cut at ground level. After new shoots sprout up in the following year, the stem is immediately processed after harvesting while the inner bark is still wet. The outer bark is scraped off and the inner bark is hammered evenly to be pried off in long rolls. The processed bark dries in four to six hours and is cut into 5- to 10- cm lengths for sale.
Nutrition Value of Cinnamon:
Ground cinnamon is composed of around 11% water, 81% carbohydrates, 4% protein, and 1% fat (table). Typical serving size is one teaspoon, ground cinnamon is a rich source of iron, vitamin K, calcium, while providing moderate amounts of vitamin B6, vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc.
Health Benefits of Cinnamon:
Powerful health agent for metabolism.
The distinct flavour and smell of cinnamon is due to a compound called cinnamaldyhyde. This compound is known for its metabolic properties. Thus, cinnamon boosts the metabolism process in our body and keeps the body fit.
Rich in antioxidants.
Antioxidants flush out the damage from the body caused by free radicals. Cinnamon is loaded with powerful antioxidants like polyphenols, thus making it one of the “super foods”. Cinnamon is considered to be more effective than turmeric and many other popular super foods!
While inflammation in the body is essential to fight infections, chronic inflammation can lead to wear and tear of tissues in the body. The antioxidants in cinnamon have rich anti-inflammatory properties. Therefore, cinnamon keeps the tissues in our body healthy and prevents muscle and tissue inflammation.
May reduce the risk of cardiac disease.
A few studies link the usage of cinnamon with decreased risk of heart disease. Cinnamon balances the level of cholesterol in the body by maintaining a stable amount of “good” cholesterol and reducing total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Cinnamon has been shown to reduce blood pressure in some animal studies.
Cinnamon decreases the amount of glucose that enters the blood stream. Moreover, a compound in cinnamon acts like insulin and helps in glucose uptake, thereby lowering the level of blood sugar. Thus, cinnamon has an anti-diabetic effect. Cinnamon has been shown to lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Effect on Alzheimer’s disease.
Compounds in cinnamon help in inhibiting a type of protein called tau in the brain which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, a disease characterised by memory loss and slowly deteriorating brain functions as a result of old age. Further, a study concerning Parkinson’s on mice showed that cinnamon helped to protect neurons, normalized neurotransmitter levels, and improved motor functions. These studies haven’t derived concrete findings, but one can expect to explore the possibility of using cinnamon to treat or lower the risk of such chronic neurodegenerative diseases.
Fights bacterial and fungal infections.
Cinnamon oil has been shown to treat respiratory infections caused by fungi. It also inhibits growth of several bacteria and reduces tooth decay as well as bad breath. It cures external as well as internal infections.
Source of aromatic essential oils.
The spice contains health benefiting essential oils such as eugenol, a phenylpropanoids class of chemical compound that gives pleasant, sweet aromatic fragrance to it. Eugenol has got local anaesthetic and antiseptic properties, hence; employed in the dental and gum treatment procedures. Essential oils are used in massage and baths to relax the body muscles and reduce stress, thereby providing a soothing and calming effect.
Prevents blood clotting in blood vessels.
Cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon-sticks has been found to have anticoagulant (prevents blood-clotting) function, prevents platelet clogging inside the blood vessels, and thereby helps prevent stroke, peripheral arterial and coronary artery diseases. Therefore, it keeps the blood flow smooth.
Aids in digestion.
The active principles in this spice increase the motility of the intestinal tract and aid in digestion by increasing gastro-intestinal enzyme secretions. Thus, cinnamon helps in conditions like stomach ulcers, diarrhoea, etc.
Laden with minerals.
This spicy stick is an excellent source of minerals like potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Iron is essential for cellular metabolism as a co-factor and in RBC’s production. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids that helps control heart rate and blood pressure. The human body chiefly uses manganese and copper as co-factors for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
A Traditional Warming Remedy.
In addition to the active components in its essential oils and its nutrient composition, cinnamon has also been valued in energy-based medical systems, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, for its warming qualities. In these traditions, cinnamon 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.
Being a cognitive stimulant, the aroma and flavour of cinnamon helps in enhancing and improving working memory, visual-motor speed, and virtual recognition memory. Chewing cinnamon flavoured gum or just smelling cinnamon boosts the activity of the brain. Thus, cinnamon is beneficial in the cognitive development of children and adolescents.
Keeps skin healthy and clear.
Since cinnamon aids in removing blood impurities, it is highly recommended for treating pimples and acne. Cinnamon improves blood circulation which helps in maintaining strong and beautiful hair.
Helps in kidney functioning.
Being diuretic in nature, cinnamon assists in secretion and discharge of urine. It is also believed to arouse sexual desire since it is an aphrodisiac and helps in the secretion of breast milk.
Culinary uses of Cinnamon: (Click here for the Cinnamon Recipes)
- Around the world, cinnamon spice widely used as a spice. It principally employed in cookery as a condiment and flavouring base. It added in the preparation of chocolate and some kinds of desserts, such as cinnamon-apple pie and cinnamon buns as well as pastries, bagels, sweet rolls, spicy candies, tea, hot cocoa, and drinks.
- Cinnamon spice has been in use in the preparation of many popular dishes in Asian and Chinese cuisine since ancient times. Along with other spicy items (masala powder), it is being used in marinating chicken, fish, and meats.
- Some Indian vegetarian and chicken curries and rice dishes (biryani) preparations use this in small amounts. In the Middle East, it used in meat and rice dishes.
- It has also been used prepare soups, barbecue sauces, pickling and as one of the ingredients in a variety of curry powders.
Note: Uncooked cinnamon spice can cause choking and respiratory distress. Excessive use of the cinnamon stick may cause inflammation of taste buds, gum swelling, and mouth ulcers. Large quantities can cause difficulty breathing, dilate blood vessels, and cause sleepiness, depression, or even convulsions.
Apart from the above mentioned benefits, cinnamon has several other uses – it promotes weight loss, is used in several natural beauty regimes for clear skin and strong, lustrous hair, and is a popular essential oil. Most important of all, it is a key ingredient in many of the delicious kitchen recipes.So grab that jar of cinnamon on the kitchen counter and get cooking to make way for a healthier, fitter you!