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Cinnamon: A very nice spice

Posted May 04 2010 12:00am
How often does something as delicious as cinnamon also offer so many health benefits? (Well, quite often, if you consider how many incredible fruits and vegetables we have on this planet... but that’s another post.)

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of an Asian evergreen tree. The oils in the bark, in addition to being tasty, are anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory. Cinnamon also contains a natural form of coumarin, a blood-thinner and anticoagulant, which may help support your circulatory health.

Recent studies suggest that cinnamon helps regulate fasting glucose levels and enhance insulin’s ability to keep your blood sugar in check. It’s fascinating when you consider that cinnamon is usually accompanied by sugar, at least in Western cuisine. I love the way traditional food combinations often seem to point to an early understanding of nutrition. In effect, adding cinnamon to your porridge or pancakes could mitigate some of the harmful effects of the high-carb meal.

Before you go dumping cinnamon on everything you eat, here’s something you should be aware of. There are two common varieties of cinnamon: Cassia cinnamon (also known as Chinese or Vietnamese cinnamon) and Ceylon cinnamon (also known as “true” cinnamon). The first kind, Cassia, is the one used most often in this country. The second kind, Ceylon, is more expensive and harder to find at your average supermarket.

The coumarin content of Cassia cinnamon is much higher than that of Ceylon cinnamon. Coumarin, while useful in small amounts, is toxic when ingested to excess. As a result, some European health organizations have warned that consuming large amounts of Cassia cinnamon could pose health risks, including possible liver damage. (A few shakes on your oatmeal, of course, are not a problem.)

My suggestion: if you’re interested in the potential blood glucose-lowering benefits of cinnamon, it’s worth seeking out the Ceylon variety.

I recently bought some Ceylon cinnamon online from Penzey’s Spices and did a side-by-side taste test. Ceylon tastes distinctly different than the Cassia cinnamon I’m used to -- sweeter, fruitier, and less harsh. It would be perfect in an apple or peach crumble.

Here’s a hearty vegetarian main dish that includes cinnamon -- but no sugar.

Spicy Chickpea Stew with Couscous

One box (1 1/2 cups) of plain unflavored couscous
2 Tb. olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 medium carrots, diced
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 cup corn (frozen is fine)
2 small zucchini, diced
2 14-oz. cans chickpeas, drained
2 cups water
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 tsp. salt or to taste
fresh ground pepper

Cook couscous according to package directions. When it’s done, set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, add onion and carrots, and saute for 10 minutes. Add spices and stir for another minute or two.

Stir in the corn, zucchini, and chickpeas, then add the water and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for 20 minutes, or until vegetables are tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve stew ladled over couscous. Serves 4-6.

Text copyright © 2010 Eleanor Kohlsaat LLC
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