Cinnamon is the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree. There are many different species. Cinnamon zeylanicum is also known as Ceylon cinnamon or ‘true cinnamon' which is of lighter colour and possessing a sweeter, more delicate flavour than cassia. A native of Sri Lanka, the best cinnamon grows along the coastal strip near Colombo. Cinnamon comes in ‘quills', strips of bark rolled one in another. The best varieties are pale and parchment-like in appearance. Cinnamon is sweet and fragrant with warm and aromatic flavour.
Cinnamon is probably one of the most aromatic of the spices. Cinnamon is commonly used in cakes and other baked foods, milk and rice puddings, chocolate dishes and fruit desserts. It is also used in curries and pilau rice dishes and in garam masala, usually in ground form or as pieces of the bark in meat curries to flavour. It is sometimes used to spice mulled wines, creams and syrups. In Mexico it is drunk with coffee and chocolate and brewed as a tea.
It has few medicinal values. It is mildly carminative and used to treat nausea and flatulence. It is also used alone or in combination to treat diarrhoea. The oil in cinnamon is a type of phenol which is anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. This also slows meat to spoil, so it is used as a spice for meat dishes, especially in warmer climates. It inhibits disagreeable mouth odours by destroying bacteria.
Recent studies show that cinnamon may help control blood sugar levels It also reduces the LDL cholesterol. In Alzheimer’s disease cinnamon seems to inhibit the formation of the proteins that are the hallmark of the disease.