By Audrey Kessler, RD, LDN
A spice with a long and rich history, cinnamon is the dried inner bark of various evergreen trees with the genus Cinnamomum. There are many types of cinnamon, but two are most familiar; Ceylon or “true” cinnamon and Chinese or cassia cinnamon. Their bark is made into cinnamon powder, capsules, teas, and liquid extracts. Ceylon tends to be slightly sweeter, more refined, has softer sticks and can be found at some specialty stores. Cassia cinnamon is the less expensive variety and more commonly found today in baked goods and on traditional supermarket shelves.
Cinnamon is also used for several conditions, including gastrointestinal problems (gas, bloating, diarrhea), blood sugar control and kidney disorders, to name a few. In Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine, cinnamon has been included in formulas prescribed to treat those and other health issues. However, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) has concluded that “high-quality clinical evidence to support the use of cinnamon for any medical condition is generally lacking.”
There are also myriad scientific studies that suggest potential benefits of consuming foods rich in antioxidants. One antioxidant component identified in cinnamon is cinnamaldehyde. Although the health benefits of consuming antioxidants like cinnamaldehyde are not completely understood, it is believed the human body obtains the protective benefits of these substances when they are incorporated into one’s eating plan.
As a dietitian, I strongly believe food (and exercise) is the best and most basic medicine. Incorporating cinnamon in the ground spice form into food every day is perhaps the safest, most delicious option. In one teaspoon of cassia cinnamon, there is iron (1% DV), manganese (0.4mg, 22% DV), calcium (25.1mg, 3% DV), vitamin K (0.8mcg, 1% DV), and one gram of dietary fiber.
Spices like cinnamon not only offer a rich source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, but a seasoning alternative to less beneficial ingredients that are too often consumed in excess, like salt, sugar and fat. Ways cinnamon can enhance the flavor and aroma of sweet and savory foods and beverages, and replace less healthful substances include:
- Meals & Snacks
- Add a pinch of cinnamon to black beans for a burrito or black bean soup.
- Season grilled peaches and plums with a pinch of cinnamon and brown sugar.
- Flavor yogurt with cinnamon, then sprinkle with nuts and seeds.
- Season roasted cauliflower or butternut squash with cinnamon.
- Sprinkle cinnamon on hot oatmeal or cold cereal.
- Season popcorn with cinnamon, then drizzle with melted chocolate.
- Saute lamb with eggplant, raisins, and cinnamon.
- Add cinnamon sticks to warm apple cider.
- Add cinnamon to a smoothie containing milk, banana, peanut butter and honey.
- Sprinkle cinnamon atop your coffee, or add it to your coffee grounds.
- Freeze cinnamon in ice cubes for cold, flavored water.
If properly stored, ground cinnamon will last for at least six months, while the quill can last up to a year. Refrigerating either of the forms can preserve the cinnamon much longer. Cinnamon is best sealed in a glass container in a cool, dark, dry place. Also suggested when cooking with cinnamon is to add it in the last 5-10 minutes to avoid loss of active constituents from over exposure to heat.
Cinnamon. NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health Web site. https://nccih.nih.gov/health/cinnamon. Published October 2011. Updated April 2012. Accessed January 31, 2015.
Cassia Cinnamon. WebMD Web site. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-1002-cassia%20cinnamon.aspx?activeingredientid=1002&activeingredientname=cassia%20cinnamon. Accessed February 24, 2015.
Spices, cinnamon, ground [Cassia]. SELFNutritionData Web site. http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/spices-and-herbs/180/2. Accessed February 1, 2015.
Vergin A. Focus on: Cinnamon - Sugar and Spice, and Everything...Healthy? Alternative Medicine Web site. http://www.alternativemedicine.com/health/focus/focus-cinnamon. Accessed January 30, 2015.