A delicious sweet spice - Cinnamomum verum

cinnamonWe all know the rhyme 'cinnamon and spice make all things nice'. Cinnamon of course is a spice best known for flavouring cakes and sweets, it's great sprinkled on top of hot chocolate drinks although it can be mixed into almost any hot drink, especially coffee.

Cinnamon was once one of the world's most highly sought after commodities, it  has been in use for thousands of years as a medicine, an embalming agent, a means of preserving food, and as a flavouring. The earliest reports of cinnamon date back to ancient Egypt in 2000 B.C. Cinnamon is also described in the Old Testament as an ingredient in anointing oil.

Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) is a small, bushy and lustrous green tree. The dried leaves and/or the dried bark of this tree can be ground and used as a flavouring and medicine. The leaves are slightly hot and bitter in taste and have a mouth-watering fragrance when cooked or fried. The bark has a pleasing fragrance and a warm, sweet, aromatic taste in its natural or cooked state.

The outer bark of the tree is thick and brownish, but the inner bark is more useful than the outer one. It is obtained from carefully chosen shoots. These shoots are allowed to mature up to a certain limit on the tree and then the bark is obtained. It is dried in shade and while drying it shrinks, curls and breaks into pieces. These pieces are ground and used in spices and medicines.

Cinnamon trees are cultivated in Sri Lanka and in tropical parts of Asia. Southern India and islands like Andaman, Nicobar, Lakhsadweep and the Maldives. Most of the world production of cinnamon comes from these parts of world although some is produced in Egypt.

The leaves are also used in the form of powder or decoction which is then added to medicines. They stimulate the peristaltic wave and help in relieving distension of the abdomen or flatulence. They also increase urination, which in a way helps in expelling metabolic waste products or toxins out of the body.

Medical use

One ayurvedic school has recommended the use of cinnamon in brain tonics for improvisation of memory. Cinnamon is also considered useful for anxiety, depression and mental tension.

Cinnamon is considered a good remedy for irritating cough, common cold, allergic rhinitis, and acute and chronic sinusitis. It helps in relieving a choking sensation and cleans respiratory passages. Cinnamon, along with a few other herbal powders is boiled in water and used for gargling in case of sore throat. An herbal tea is prepared out of these medicines and served hot as a diaphoretic mixture in case of influenza and other unknown origin fevers. It induces sweating and helps in relieving the fever.

Cinnamon is also used in digestive disorders like nausea, vomiting, dyspepsia (imperfect digestion) and anorexia (loss of appetite). An ayurvedic carminative (calmative) mixture for paediatric or adult use essentially contains cinnamon. It also has proved its merit as a mouth freshener. This is the reason why it is included in most of herbal toothpastes.

Ayurvedic beauticians also use cinnamon in creams or lotions and here it serves the purpose of adding to fairness of skin and improving the complexion of skin. It is also used for external application with few other herbal powders for headache related to cough, cold and fever. It helps in reducing tension/cluster headaches as well. Some practitioners claim its use in hyper pigmentation of skin as well as acne. It can be used externally and is taken internally with honey and limejuice for desired effects.

One ayurvedic school of medicine has discussed role of cinnamon in birth control. More research is needed to support this but ayurvedic gynaecologists have recommended use of cinnamon in menorrhoea (excessive bleeding during menses) and medical trials have supported this statement by claiming good results. In short, cinnamon is a spice as well as a medicine. It helps in digestive, respiratory and gynaecological problems.

Not all cinnamon is actually cinnamon:


Cinnamomum cassia

There is what's known as “true cinnamon" (Cinnamomum verum) produced mostly in Sri Lanka, South India, Madagascar, Brazil and the Caribbean which is competitively rare in the market place.

A similar spice is cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia), or Saigon cinnamon.  This is usually grown in either China, Indonesia, or Vietnam and most of the spice sold as cinnamon in the United States, United Kingdom, and India is Chinese cinnamon. Another variant, "Indonesian cinnamon" (C. burmannii) is sold in much smaller amounts.

Cinnamon produced in Sri Lanka and South India is packed full of health benefits, while the others have the potential to cause liver damage when taken in access.  This is due to the content of a mildly toxic compound called coumarin. Cinnamomum verum contains about 0.017 g/kg while other types of cinnamon contain from 2.15–6.97 g/kg of coumarin.

Another difference is in appearance and flavour. While the cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) we’re used to seeing on the grocery store shelves is typically dark reddish brown and tastes quite spicy, true cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) is much lighter in colour, it's a sweeter and has a milder and overwhelmingly delicious, flavour.

Buyer beware!



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