Spices are the buds, bark, roots, berries and aromatic seeds that are harvested for use in flavouring cooking. Herbs are the leaves of plants, so when we use coriander leaf we refer to it as a herb, however when we use coriander seed we say we are using a spice.
Spices not only impart a unique and beautiful aroma and flavour to any dish; sweet or savoury but are composed of an impressive list of phyto- nutrients, essential oils, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that are essential for our wellness. Spices have been part of our food for many centuries, and today are widely used in many cultures as both food and medicine. Functional - you bet, often imparting many health benefits for us above and beyond their nutritional value.
One of my favourites is cinnamon. This delightfully exotic, sweet-flavoured spice stick is traditionally obtained from the outer brown bark of cinnamomum trees, which when dried, rolls into a tubular form known commercially as “quill.” It is a popular spice that both warms and stimulates the digestive system is said to assist the body breakdown fats during digestion and is used to boost brain activity, regulate blood sugar levels and lower blood pressure.
Rich in antioxidants and with anti-inflammatory benefits, cinnamon is said to help with many common ailments, some of which are: Stomach and gut conditions (including gas, bloating, cramps, diarrhoea and nausea), yeast infections, PMS and relief of cold and flu symptoms (catarrhal congestion). Research suggests it provides anti-microbial, anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and anti-parasitic properties. The spice contains a long list of health benefiting essential oils such as eugenol, which gives pleasant, sweet aromatic fragrance. Eugenol has got local anaesthetic and antiseptic properties, hence; useful in dental and gum treatment procedures.
What you might not know, is not all cinnamon is true cinnamon. ‘True’ or cinnamom verum (from the plant cinnamomum zeylanicum) is the inner bark of a small evergreen tree native to Sri Lanka – and is commonly referred to as Ceylon cinnamon and is typically more expensive than the Cassia (Chinese version) and it is the type more closely associated with potential health benefits. It contains much less coumarin (a naturally occurring substance with blood thinning properties that have to be filtered out by the liver and kidneys that over time may impact negatively).
How can you tell the difference? When ground, it is very hard to visually but aromatically there is a huge difference. When we open our organic ground cinnamom verum at the office – you can smell it right through the building! Delightful! The taste I believe is more refined and subtle, less spicy and pungent. The sticks do differ side by side. Ceylon has a thin and paper like textured bar that has multiple layers when rolled up versus the tougher, thicker darker brown, less layered tougher Cassia.
Very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, cinnamon is also a good source of vitamin K and iron, and a very good source of dietary fibre, calcium and manganese.It’s not just for using with apples any more... and it’s much more than a fragrant spice!