Herbs & Spices
Season for Cinnamon Available Year-Round
Once upon a time, cinnamon was more valuable than gold. While not so much nowadays, it's an invaluable culinary staple with an impressive roster of medicinal benefits. This popular spice comes from the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree that's harvested and curls into quills as it dries - hence, the cinnamon stick. You'll find cinnamon in two varieties: What's labeled "cinnamon" (and most widely available) is generally the cassia type, which has a rich mahogany hue and carries a pungent, slightly bittersweet flavor profile. The other kind, Ceylon, is worth seeking out, for it has a sweeter, more refined flavor (and lighter buff color).
How to Buy and Store Cinnamon
Whole quills will keep their flavor indefinitely, but it's quite difficult to grind them yourself into a beautifully fine powder. So you'll want to keep the powdered variety on hand for most recipes. If you can, purchase it in small amounts, keeping in mind that - like many spices - once ground, it's flavor quickly begins to dissipate (buy what you'll use in a couple of months). Also, keep it away from light, stored in an airtight container. If you can, smell your cinnamon before you buy it to make sure it is emitting a sweet aroma, a good indicator of its freshness.
How to Cook Cinnamon
Most of us have fond memories of cinnamon & sugar toast as children, and while cinnamon is an indisputable favorite in sweets from cinnamon buns to oatmeal and snickerdoodles and of course a star in all manner of fall/wintertime beverages, its wow factor need not be relegated to breakfast and dessert. As a savory spice, it makes an intriguing addition to dishes such as stews and curries (you can use the sticks as you would bay leaves, throwing one or two in while it simmers and extracting them before serving). It pairs well with squashes - especially butternut and kabocha, simply sprinkled over the top. It adds a Middle Eastern flair to meat dishes and a wonderful addition to Mexican fare, such as black beans and rice.
Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Of all spice, cinnamon shines in its vigor. Most of cinnamon's health-promoting activity comes from its powerful essential oils. Studies have shown that consuming as little as one-half teaspoon of cinnamon each day may reduce blood sugar and cholesterol. It's also ant-clotting, anti-bacterial, can boost cognitive function and memory, among its list of health benefits that seems to always be growing. In addition to its unique essential oils, cinnamon is a great source of the trace mineral manganese and a good source of dietary fiber, iron and calcium.
Intrigued? Read 11 Health Benefits of Cinnamon for more.
Why Buy Natural and Organic Cinnamon
Like all spices, don't skimp on purchasing your cinnamon organically whenever you can. Spices are generally fumigated in a very unnatural way - either through irradiation or fumigation with pesticides - both highly unsavory for post-consumption. By seeking out organic companies, you know you're getting the best quality cinnamon that took sustainable farming and production practices to heart in the creation of your full-bodied, highly-enriching product.