14 August 2012

Cinnamon: The spice of gods and kings

Many spices have a rich background filled with folklore, legend and  interesting tidbits of history that many people are unaware of when using them in the kitchen. Here's a brief history of one of my favorite spices: cinnamon.

Some legends say cinnamon came from the sea at the edge of the world, at the mouth of the Nile. Others say that the exotic Cinnamon Bird carried cinnamon twigs from a mysterious land to Arabia to build their nests, and that the clever Arabs were able to trick the birds into giving up the precious nests. Most of these tales stemmed from Arab merchants who widely spread tall tales to keep their cinnamon source a secret.

Cinnamon has been a prized spice throughout the world for a long time. It was mentioned in Chinese texts as early as 2800 BC. It is also mentioned in the Bible, Exodus 30: 23, “Take the following fine spices: 500 shekels of liquid myrrh, half as much (that is, 250 shekels) of fragrant cinnamon..." 

Cinnamon was considered a precious spice fit to be a gift for both kings and gods. It was used as an anointing oil by ancient Israelites, and for embalming ancient Egyptian kings. Emperor Nero burned a year's supply of it to ease the guilt of murdering his pregnant wife, Poppaea Sabina in AD 65. Since it was worth its weight in gold in the 15th - 19th centuries, many countries fought to control the power of cinnamon trade including the Portuguese, Dutch and English. At this time it was mostly used to mask the taste of old meats.

Cinnamon has great antiseptic qualities which has made it an ideal spice to be used to cure ailments. It was and is used medicinally to cure all sorts of problems from flatulence to toothaches, from temporary colds and flu to more permanent ailments like arthritis and diabetes.

And of course, cinnamon has the added benefit of being absolutely delicious! Cinnamon is still a widely beloved spice for use in the kitchen for both main dishes (particularly in parts of Asia), and in desserts.

Cinnamon may not have been flown to earth from mysterious Cinnamon Birds, but the spice still contains a delicious aroma and flavor. Here is a wonderful dessert bread that will allow you to experience some of the magic of cinnamon. 
cinnamon bread
2 cups flour                                                      1 cup buttermilk
1 cup sugar                                                       ¼ cup oil
2 tsp baking powder                                         2 eggs
½ tsp baking soda                                            2 tsp vanilla
1 Tbs & 1½ tsp cinnamon                                4 Tbs butter
1 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Grease 9x5 loaf pan.
3. In large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, 1½ tsp cinnamon, buttermilk powder, and salt.
4. In separate bowl, combine water for buttermilk, oil, eggs, vanilla. Beat well.
5. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Mix until combined.
6. In third bowl cut butter into small chunks, add 1 Tbs cinnamon, combine into pea size bits.
7. Fold cinnamon butter mixture into batter.
8. Pour batter into loaf pan.
9. Bake 45 minutes. Insert toothpick, if isn't clean or bread seems unstable, cook another 5 minutes. 


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