A sprinkle of cinnamon

Everyone loves the dense, woody aroma that emanates from a steaming hot cup of cappuccino or cinnamon dusted cookies. Cinnamon was one of the first spices to be used in the ancient world. It was brought into Egypt as early as 2000 BC. Closer home we find records of its existence in Sri Lanka from the 13th century onwards. In fact, so coveted was cinnamon, from time in memorium that the Portuguese colonised Sri Lanka for it but were eventually defeated by the Dutch who controlled world prices by limiting its supply.

An evergreen tree of the laurel family, Sri Lanka is its largest producer and perhaps the best cinnamon comes from our neighbour. The leaves are large, leathery and shiny and the tree reaches about 35 feet. The dried inner bark of the tree holds the spice.

The longest, unmarked pieces are rolled by hand to form curls and then dried. The long, thin scrolls are called quills and are brittle in nature whilst the ones that fragment in the process of handling are quillings.

Today, there are primarily two varieties of cinnamon available — Cassia cinnamon from China, Vietnam and Indonesia and Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka, India, Brazil and the Caribbean. The cheaper variety, Cassia cinnamon has a stronger flavour while Ceylon cinnamon is mellow and sweet. So select your cinnamon according to the flavour you wish to impart to your food. “Extremely versatile this spice works well in curries, rice, meats and desserts. And across all types of cuisines not just Indian. Its perfect in slow roasts especially meats. “In our homes it forms part of the spice blend in the garam masala mix with other spices such as cloves, cardamom and peppercorns,” says Varun Kinger, Outlet Head Chef, Rivers To Oceans, Mumbai.

Cinnamon is great spice and has it’s heels dug in traditional cooking. It is used in everything from Indian desserts to tea. But it also has healing value. “Cinnamon helps to regulate insulin levels. Half a tsp of cinnamon in a glass of boiling water two times a day can help to bring down insulin resistance and better control sugar levels.

Heat a pan and dry roast the masala ingredients together till it turns into a dark brown colour. Keep aside and let it cool. Once it’s cool, grind into a smooth thick paste with some water. Keep aside. Now, heat a skillet and add the oil. Fry the onion and ginger together, when the onion starts to become transparent, add some salt and turmeric powder. Keep cooking for couple of minutes, then add the tomatoes and curry leaves. Cook till the tomatoes are soft. Add the shellfish pieces, and half a cup of water. Close lid and simmer for about 10 minutes. Now, add the ground x. Add half a cup of water. Close lid, leaving a small gap to let it evaporate and cook on a slow flame for another 15 minutes. Check for seasoning and serve hot.

“Cinnamon is also highly anti-inflammatory and can help protect and repair tissue from damage. It is also high in antioxidants. But you must make sure that you use Ceylon cinnamon for health benefits,” says nutritionist and food coach Anupama Menon. The commercial cinnamon that you generally buy off the rack in grocery stores may be harmful due to the higher concentration of coumarin (flavouring agent) present in it, this commercial cinnamon is called cassia cinnamon. In sensitive people it may affect their liver. So always choose the authentic Ceylon cinnamon for all health benefits.

Puree mangoes in processor until smooth. Set aside 2 cups of mango puree. Beat cream cheese, sugar, dessicated coconut powder and vanilla in large bowl until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add 2 cups mango puree and beat until well blended. Add cinnamon. Preheat oven to 165°C. Lightly butter 9-inch-diametre baking pan. Pour this mixture in the baking pan.