Available both as a stick and in powdered form, cinnamon has been treasured for thousands of years for its medicinal properties, in addition to the flavour it lends to food. The cinnamon we use is actually the inner bark of an evergreen tree that is indigenous to Sri Lanka. The stripped bark when dried in shade, rolls into quills, which are then sold as sticks.
Cinnamon is a powerhouse of antioxidants. The antioxidant content of one teaspoon of cinnamon is comparable to that of a cup of pomegranate juice or half a cup of blueberries. The spice is also a great source of dietary fibre and essential minerals, manganese, calcium and iron.
Cinnamon is high in polyphenols like proanthocyanidins, which help regulate insulin levels in the body.
The cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, cinnamyl alcohol and a wide range of volatile compounds in cinnamon lend the spice its healing properties.
Good for health
A growing body of scientific work is now confirming the varied healing abilities and health benefits of cinnamon.
Cinnamon’s ability to control blood sugar levels may turn out to be a boon for people suffering from type-2 diabetes. It may also help stave off the onset of type-2 diabetes in individuals at high risk of this disease. About 60 people with type-2 diabetes were given 3 – 6g [one gram is less than one quarter of a teaspoon] of cinnamon every day for 40 days along with their normal diet.
The results published in Diabetes Care revealed reduction in blood sugar levels by 18 – 29 per cent. The magical compound in cinnamon, a polyphenol called MHCP, makes cells more sensitive to insulin, makes insulin more efficient and improves hormones’ ability to supply glucose to the cells that need it.
Helps the heart
Cinnamon reduces the risk of developing heart disease. It has a powerful effect on abnormally high blood lipids. The study on type-2 diabetes patients also reported substantial reduction in total cholesterol by 12 – 26 per cent, LDL—the bad cholesterol by 7 – 27 per cent and triglycerides levels by 23 – 30 per cent.
It is evident that daily intake of cinnamon can help prevent atherosclerosis. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties and the presence of blood-thinning compound, cinnamon improves blood circulation. The cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon helps prevent unwanted clumping of the blood platelets.
Relieves arthritic pain and inflammation
Cinnamon’s powerful anti-inflammatory properties help in reducing muscle and joint pains. In a study at Copenhagen University, patients were given half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder mixed with one teaspoon of honey every morning before breakfast. They reported significant relief in arthritic pain after one week and could walk without pain within one month.
Cinnamon aids in digestion and other problems such as indigestion, acidity, nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, stomach cramps, flatulence and diarrhoea. Its high fibre content also helps relieve constipation.
Boosts brain functions
Believe it or not but it is a fact that smelling this aromatic spice boosts brain activity. Research continues to validate that cinnamon is a great brain tonic and can have a profound effect on the cognitive functions, stimulates brain activity and memory.
Aids weight loss
Cinnamon boosts the body’s metabolism allowing it to burn stored fat and calories more quickly and efficiently.
Eases menstrual discomfort and cramps
Cinnamon has been used in traditional systems of medicines to treat cramps and discomfort that accompanies menstruation.
Reduces oxidative stress
The high and potent antioxidants in cinnamon help in reducing oxidative stress thereby reducing the risk of associated diseases such as metabolic syndrome [name for a group of risk factors linked to overweight and obesity]. The syndrome is associated with an increased risk of type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Due to its anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic properties cinnamon is effective against certain bacteria and fungi and is useful in preventing tooth decay, gum disease and urinary tract infection.
Reduces the risk of colon cancer
Cinnamon being a good source of calcium and fibre binds the bile salts and removes them from the body, thereby preventing the damage caused by these salts to the colon cells.
Cinnamon is a versatile spice that enhances both sweet and savoury foods. Apart from the pleasant aroma and spice it adds to food, cinnamon prevents food spoilage by inhibiting the growth of bacteria.
- It is the main flavour in apple pie, pumpkin pie, cinnamon buns and rolls.
- It tastes great in breakfast foods from oatmeal to cereals.
- It is used in toasts, breads, and cookies and works well with ginger, nutmeg and clove.
- A sprinkle of cinnamon on milk shakes, tea, coffee or hot cocoa adds a special touch to the beverage.
- It is used to enhance the flavour of fruit punches and juices.
- Cinnamon powder is used as a marinade in non-vegetarian dishes.
- The pleasant aroma of cinnamon makes it an effective air freshener and hence it can be added to potpourris.
- Cinnamon oil is a good mosquito repellent.
Storing the spice
Store ground and whole cinnamon in airtight containers and keep them away from sunlight. Cinnamon sticks retain the flavour for a long time but ground cinnamon loses flavour quickly.
Cinnamon provides aid in some of the most common health problems:
- To cure toothache, make a paste of cinnamon powder and honey in the ratio of 1:5 and apply it on the aching tooth for immediate relief.
- For weight loss, boil half a tablespoon of cinnamon powder in one cup of water. Cool and add one tablespoon honey. Drink half of the mixture before breakfast and the other half at night before sleeping.
- For relief from arthritic pain, take half a teaspoon of cinnamon powder with one tablespoon of honey before breakfast.
- To ease aching muscle or joint, make a paste of honey and cinnamon powder. Mix this paste with a little lukewarm water and apply it on the aching area.
- For sore throat, drink cinnamon tea.
- To get rid off chronic cough, cold and blocked sinuses, have a tablespoon of honey with a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon powder daily.
Keep these pointers in mind when using cinnamon:
- Cinnamon should be used in moderation.
- Those on medication for diabetes should consult their physician before taking cinnamon because the spice may further lower the blood sugar.
- Pregnant and breast feeding women should avoid cinnamon.
- Cinnamon has anti-clotting effect on blood. Caution should be exercised when using cinnamon in combination with blood-thinning medications.