When I decided to create the “pantry” section, I realised that, in order to write correctly about the various products I use and recommend, I would have had to study. This week it was cinnamon’s turn and I knew I would have had a lot to read because spices have an ancient history and also have health benefits.
However, I was really surprised by the amount of news I found, so much that summarise all of it would be close to impossible. I therefore decided to schematically report the things that struck me most, so that even those who do not know anything about cinnamon can quickly get an idea of the importance of this extraordinary product.
Cinnamon is an evergreen tree from the family of Cinnamomum, in which there are several species. The most valuable is Cinnamomum Zeylanicum, which is native to Ceylon and grows wild in Sri Lanka.
The Cinnamomum cassia species, also known as Chinese cinnamon, is more widespread in China and Southeast Asia and has a less sweet and refined aroma.
The spice is obtained from the internal part of the bark, deprived of the cork and dried.
- Cinnamon is mentioned in the Bible
- Its medical use is attested in China in 2700 BC
- Around 2000 BC it arrived in Egypt, where it was used for embalming
- Its Arabic name is Kin Anomon which means fragrant plant of China
- The ancient Greeks mixed it with wine and absinthe
- Thanks to Pliny the Elder we know that it was known in ancient Rome, but that it was very expensive
- During the Middle Ages it was used as a precious gift. In the food sector it is used for both sweet and savory dishes; in the medical field it is considered a powerful aphrodisiac
- In the Renaissance Nostradamus included it among the ingredients of one of his love filters
The properties of cinnamon are truly extraordinary. It is an antiseptic and antibacterial, extremely useful for fighting colds but also viral infections. It has antimicrobial and astringent properties and promotes the breakdown of sugars and fats. In recent years, cinnamon has been particularly studied for the support it could provide in the fight against diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension and cancer.
In short, cinnamon doesn’t just have the delicious smell and taste that we usually associate with apple pies and buns.
But if I have to be honest, as a Harry Potter fan, the thing that struck me most are the legends related to cinnamon and in particular the one that revolves around the Phoenix. This is what Ovidio wrote in The Metamorphoses:
Non di erbe o di frumento vive, ma di lacrime d’incenso e stille d’amomo, e quando giunge a cinque secoli di vita, se ne va in cima a una tremula palma e con gli artigli, col suo becco immacolato si costruisce un nido tra il fogliame. E non appena sul fondo ha steso foglie di cassia, spighe di nardo fragrante, cannella sminuzzata e bionda mirra, vi si adagia e conclude la sua vita fra gli aromi. Allora, si dice, dal corpo paterno rinasce un piccolo di fenice, che è destinato a vivere altrettanti anni.( Ovidio, Metamorfosi Libro XV)
It does not live on seeds and herbs, but on drops of incense, and the sap of the cardamom plant. When it has lived for five centuries, it then builds a nest for itself in the topmost branches of a swaying palm tree, using only its beak and talons. As soon as it has lined it with cassia bark, and smooth spikes of nard, cinnamon fragments and yellow myrrh, it settles on top, and ends its life among the perfumes. They say that, from the father’s body, a young phoenix is reborn, destined to live the same number of years.(Ovidio, Metamorphosis, Book XV)
After talking about embalming, love filters and magical phoenixes, it’s now time for some practical advice.
At home I always have both cinnamon powder, useful to add to doughs or sauces, and cinnamon sticks perfect for flavouring liquids.
I have to admit I never knew before of the existence of different qualities, and therefore always bought what I found at the supermarket without any problems. Now that I have learned that the Ceylon (or Verum) quality is the best and that the origin should be indicated on the packaging, I can recommend you to buy the one from BART, an extremely popular brand, and also CM Naturals that you can find at Holland & Barrett .
If, on the other hand, you have to buy cinnamon sticks to decorate your Christmas packages, for example, you don’t need to be so purist and you can buy the cheapest product you can find. But remember not to throw the sticks in the garbage, but to recycle them in the compost or to put them in the pots of your plants to keep them healthier.