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Cooking with cinnamon

During Advent, Christmas spices give a special touch to many dishes. Cinnamon is one of the favourites – its sweet, spicy aroma is used to flavour gingerbread and biscuits. Apart from Christmas baking, cinnamon is popular all year round in rice pudding, fruit salad, plum sauce and baked apples as well as many savoury dishes. It is used in Greek lamb and moussaka recipes, and in Indian curries and chutneys. And it can add a hint of the East to vegetable dishes, soups and couscous. On cold days, add a pinch of cinnamon to mulled wine, punch or tea.

Only two types of cinnamon are sold commercially by weight

Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices in the world. It was a coveted commodity in 18th century Europe. Nowadays, you can find cinnamon in every supermarket. It is made from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree (Cinnamonum), which is a member of the Laurel family. There are several hundred different types, but only Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon are important in the European spice trade. Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka has a fine, unobtrusive flavour. It is of very high quality and is usually processed into sticks. The bitter to slightly sweet Cassia or Chinese cinnamon is mainly ground into powder. Some people may be sensitive to coumarin, which is found in Cassia cinnamon.

If consumed in excess, cinnamon can damage the liver. The TDI value, "tolerable daily intake” is 0.1 mg per kilogram of body weight. So a person weighing 60 kg could consume 6 mg of coumarin per day, without any impact on their health. This corresponds to about 2g of Cassia cinnamon. People who tend to eat a lot of cinnamon, should therefore choose Ceylon cinnamon, which has less coumarin.

Buying and storing

Cinnamon bark is peeled, fermented and dried and is commercially available in the form of powder or sticks. As a powder, it is difficult to distinguish between the two types of cinnamon. However, Ceylon cinnamon is usually better quality and is therefore more expensive. In cinnamon sticks the difference is clearly visible. Cassia cinnamon is one relatively thick layer of bark which is rolled and Ceylon cinnamon is several fine layers rolled together. If stored in a dark, dry place, cinnamon can keep its flavour for up to three years.

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de