Dietribes: Cinnamon


• Where does cinnamon come from? What, you think it grows on trees? Close enough - it actually comes from the inner bark of a cinnamon tree! These rolls of barks ("quills") are sold as cinnamon sticks (for cider and mulled wine making, among other treats). Ground bark results in the cinnamon most of us use as a spice for recipes or, for instance, as part of my daily bowl of cereal.

• Both cinnamon and its stronger-and-less-delicate-in-flavor cousin cassia are part of the laurel family. Another relation, camphor, is so strong its best known use to us is as mothballs.

• Cassia is a less expensive kind of Chinese cinnamon - and the cinnamon most commonly found in the the United States.

• Cinnamon is no recent discovery - the Chinese may have been the first to use it, with the Egyptians not far behind (around 1450 B.C.), while Greeks and Romans burned the spice as incense in their temples. "The use of cinnamon reached its height in the ancient world with the Roman importation along with many other items they coveted from Asia and northern Africa. Cinnamon and other spices were used to flavor wines, make perfumes and ointments and even in embalming."

• Besides aromatherapy, cinnamon's medical benefits are widely touted. It can be used to treat anything from toothaches and bad breath to lowering cholesterol and treating diabetes. It also contains potent antioxidants.

• But wait, there's more! Cinnamon oil kills germs, cinnamon-based packaging prevents mold in bread and other baked goods, and can even fight off E. coli bacteria. It even occasionally appears as "miracle images" (cough) on toast ...

• Cinnamon does have its limitations - it is impossible to swallow a teaspoon of it. Apparently Derek Jeter takes advantage of this little known fact quite often. (Do not try this at home! … or anywhere else!)

• Every food seems to have its own celebration somewhere, and cinnamon is no exception. On October 4, "kanelbullens dag" (Cinnamon roll day) is celebrated in Sweden.

• If you're looking for a kick to your food that appreciates a dash of cinnamon, consider substituting Red Hots.

• I love cinnamon! What are your favorite cinnamon-flavored things, Flossers? I didn't know that most U.S. cinnamon is actually cassia … I'm starting to wonder if I've ever had actual cinnamon!

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‘Dietribes’ appears every other Wednesday. Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.