Food profile: The Spice World – Cinnamon

[1] Cinnamon – a very special and versatile spice in many savoury and sweet foods. 

Hello there, it’s time for a Food Profile, once again. I have tried to mix it up with as much of the topics as possible to keep you interested – I sincerely hope it pays off. In this edition, I am writing about an integral ingredient that has been used throughout the span of Asia. This is one of the many articles I hope to be under the series, The Spice World – as I do enjoy to categorise things to accentuate and make things clearer. Like always, I will use the main ideas of origin, nutritional facts and recipes to analyse the cinnamon bark. I hope you have a worthwhile read here – if there are areas of improvement, do suggest them in the comments below.

Origin
Like the salt, the cinnamon bark was once a highly prized commodity, particularly in Ceylon or modern day Sri Lanka, widely contested over by the Dutch and Portuguese colonists on the island. [2] It was first recorded by the Chinese in 2800 B.C., and its name evolved, interestingly enough, in different languages – in Arabic, amomon, meaning fragrant spice plant and in Italian and French, canella or canelle, meaing the little tube. However, in 1833, the cinnamon cultivation was starting to deteriorate drastically, whilst many new industries found in Indonesia, Mauritius, Réunion, Guyana and other tropical lands, found in the South American or Caribbean areas, expanded to fill this void. [2]

Nutritional Facts
There has been a lot of research and debate by many universities and dieticians about what is the ideal amount of cinnamon to take daily – but it is still not a cracked nut. There is a type of cinnamon, called the cassia cinnamon, which is used to reduce and regulate blood sugar levels, acts as an inflammatory and antioxidant ingredient and can fight against bacteria. [3, 4] It has been discovered, however, that there is a specific component that cinnamon contains –insulin. This is believed to have metabolic effects, reducing chances of diabetes and cardiovascular disease. [4]

Despite the fact that it is argued cinnamon does help with metabolic attributes, it does not mean to take it excessively. This is because, according to American dietician, Dr. Richard Anderson, consuming high amounts of cinnamon, can affect the salivary glands particularly the main enzyme polyphenol, and prevent the body from maximising results after protein intake. Like many ingredients, it is to be taken in relatively lower amounts, that way it is beneficial to the consumer. [4]

Recipes
Below, I have provided a few of my favourite recipes that incorporates cinnamon as a primary ingredient to enhance the taste:

1) Apple tart/Fruit tart/Apple crumble 
Perhaps one of my favourite desserts apart from the chocolate or fruit cake. In my opinion, this serves as an alternative to the apple crumble – whether you are feeling adventurous or more comfort food during the day. It’s your choice – I have left the pastry or crumble up to you to decide. If you like to be adventurous, try out a crème anglaise or custard and place your favourite berries or apricots on top, sprinkling with some ice sugar for extra goodness.

1.1) Pastry – preferably puff pastry, but can make yourself (which is more crumbly in texture, rather than crispy)

For 4 people: 

  • 200g plain flour 
  • Pinch of salt 
  • 110g unsalted butter 
  • 2-3 tablespoons of very cold water [5] 

Part of the topping 
1 apple for each person – so 4 apples – it is more workable number 
Half a lemon
A few sprinkles of cinnamon
2 teaspoons of castor or cane sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract or 1 small packet of vanilla sugar
(If you are really feeling it, serve with a scoop of coconut or vanilla ice cream and garnish with powdered pistachio nuts)  

In a saucepan, heat up the apples. When it heats up add the other ingredients, until the apples have browned and deformed. If you are making an apple tart, use a blender and blitz until soft. Scoop and add this paste on top of the pastry, giving some decoration from bits of left over pastry, and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes.

1) Preheat oven at 190 degrees Celsius.
2) Make the pastry – your choice whether it is already made or self-made. Once you have gotten to the point where all the ingredients have mixed, formed into a ball, put it in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes so that it sets properly. I remember when I first tried to make this and forgot to put it in the fridge – the pastry crumbled easily in my fingers and had to restart the procedure.
3) Blind bake in oven for 15-20 until it starts to take some form and colour. Remember not to cook it for too long as you will be it cooking later again.

1.2) Crumble 
This is similar to the tart – except instead of making a base and puréeing the apples – you must make a cooked diced pieces of apples and a breadcrumb effect with the pastry.

For 6 people:

  • 6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced
  • 250g caster sugar
  • 200g plain flour
  • 120g butter
  • 1 clove or cinnamon stick [6] 
  • Vanilla extract 
  • Dash of brandy or lemon juice 

Preheat oven at 150 degres Celsius. In a saucepan, slowly cook some washed, diced apples with sugar and cinnamon. If you have a sweet tooth, add some vanilla extract – otherwise, add some alcohol or lemon juice to subside the over-sweet flavour. Do not purée the apples like above. Once cooked, add in a large baking bowl and put to one side.

As for the pastry breadcrumbs, mix your sugar, flour and butter in a bowl until you get the right consistency. Sprinkle over the apples and put into oven for around 30 minutes – until golden brown and crispy crust on top. Serve with clotted cream or with your favourite ice cream. Enjoy!

2) Milkshake 
This is a really flexible recipe – grab any fruit you like and a blender. This could be traditional bananas, berries or apples. In it, I do suggest either milk or yoghurt, and to finish it off a bit of cinnamon. Very similar to many cinnamon lattes or chais you find in cafés. Personal fave for a pre-workout or post-workout refuel drink.

Effectively, the cinnamon is a useful ingredient that you can use in many sweet and savoury (despite the fact that I have not provided recipes for that). It was a highly sought-after ingredient that caused much respect as a currency, and struggle for colonial powers – particularly the Portuguese and Dutch administrations. Moreover it is continued to be relished as a medicine and as an inflammatory, metabolism-boosting spice thanks to its insulin-filled bark. I hope my apple tart/fruit tart/apple crumble and milkshake have provided some inspiration for future references as recipes, used by you, the reader. All the best from me, and take care. Till next time! 🙂

References 
[1] http://thelocalrose.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/cinnamon.jpg
[2] http://homecooking.about.com/od/foodhistory/a/cinnamonhistory.htm
[3] http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/lifestyle-guide-11/supplement-guide-cinnamon
[4] http://f2cbootcamps.com/shocking-research-on-increasing-your-metabolism/
[5] http://britishfood.about.com/od/recipeindex/r/scpastry.htm
[6] http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/478/perfect-apple-crumble.aspx
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