Today's quiz: Which common culinary spice brings feelings of cozy warmth and fills the kitchen with its sweet aroma while baking? Here's a hint: No apple pie would dare be caught without it. If you guessed cinnamon, you'd get an A!
Cinnamon has been used by many cultures around the world for centuries. It is actually the bark of the cinnamon tree, a kind of evergreen. Native to Sri Lanka, Mediterranean spice traders kept its source a mystery to protect their monopoly. Cinnamon made it's way to Egypt as early as 2000 BC and is now grown in a number of countries.
There are many varieties of cinnamon, but the two most familiar are Ceylon cinnamon, which is considered to be true cinnamon, and cassia, sold as Chinese, Vietnamese or Indonesian cinnamon. The two are used interchangeably in cooking as the difference in taste and aroma is very subtle.
Although used primarily for culinary creations, cinnamon was shown in a USDA study to be an excellent source of antioxidants, which are thought to promote heart, brain and overall health. It also may play a role in keeping blood sugar levels healthy and cholesterol levels balanced.
Sure, everyone knows cinnamon is delightful in baked goods, but did you know that cinnamon is a key spice in all kinds of savory and sweet entrée dishes? Take a trip around the world with:
Pretty versatile stuff, huh? Of course, cinnamon delightfully spices a variety of simple dishes too. Here are some of my favorite ways to use it:
- Sprinkle over hot or cold cereal. You can also simmer slow cooking steel cut oats with a cinnamon stick and water in a crockpot overnight for a hearty, healthy and "ready-when-you-wake-up" breakfast.
- Season grain dishes, such as brown rice or whole wheat couscous, with cinnamon and currants.
- Add cinnamon to vinaigrette salad dressing and use to marinate lamb.
- Make cinnamon toast with whole grain bread topped with butter or vegan spread, a bit of natural, unrefined sugar or honey and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Broil until bubbly and crisp.
- Add ground cinnamon to cookies, muffins, cakes, pancakes, waffles and quick or yeast breads. Try these Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies or Banana Bread Pancakes.
- Can't imagine anything more wonderful on a cold morning than a hot cinnamon roll? Make your dreams come true!
- Kick up your curry powder by adding cinnamon. Great with tofu, shrimp, lamb, and chicken.
- Mix cinnamon into honey or maple syrup - great on pancakes, fruit, crackers or bread.
- Sprinkle ground cinnamon over sliced apples and pears. Try this Cinnamon Pear Compote.
- For kids of all ages, use large cinnamon sticks as stir sticks for hot apple cider, hot cocoa and herbal tea. Try this Mexican-style hot cocoa.
- Chocolate with cinnamon? Absolutely! Try this: mix a little natural peanut or almond butter with a little raw honey or agave nectar. Add some ground cinnamon and spread it over a square (or two!) or dark chocolate.
Got a favorite way to use cinnamon, savory or sweet? I would love to hear!