Ancient, Magical Cinnamon & Amazing Muffins

Cinnamon has been part of human history since 2800 BC when it was first mentioned in Chinese medical writings. Used in ancient Egypt, Europe and China starting in 2000 BC as perfume in the embalming process, an aphrodisiac and in the preservation of meat, the Arabs held the monopoly on its trade until the Portuguese discovered a prized variety in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in the 1500s. Cinnamon is now more widely grown, readily available and cheap but it's magic remains strong.

Our ancestors didn't fully understand the molecular mechanisms by which cinnamon displayed it's incredible health-promoting effects. Nonetheless, anecdotal evidence led them to use it for respiratory ailments, the flu, digestive upsets and to prevent spoilage of meat by bacteria. Modern science is now lending credibility to ancient wisdom and adding to the list of powers of this miracle, ancient spice.

Cinnamon is obtained from the inner bark of a dozen species of evergreen trees. Ceylon cinnamon is called 'true cinnamon' because it's origin is the small Cinnamomum verum tree native to Sri Lanka, an island country south east of India (and absolutely worth a visit if you ever get the chance!). Most of the cinnamon available in regular super markets and 90% of the cinnamon imported into the United States, however, is of the cassia variety, grown in Indonesia, China and other countries. Pictured above, cassia cinnamon can come in all sizes! (a friend gifted me the giant bark from a local spice shop here in Hong Kong and we are all clearly fascinated). According to Ana Sortun, executive chef at the lovely Oleana restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Ceylon cinnamon has "lighter, brighter citrus tones" versus cassia cinnamon with is "stronger and hotter" but these flavor differences aside, there is another important, medically relevant distinction worth noting. 

Cinnamon contains a natural compound called coumarin, which acts as a blood thinner and prevents blood clotting. At high doses, coumarin can cause liver toxicity and cassia cinnamon contains measurable amounts of coumarin. While a sprinkling on your French toast or in the amazing muffins we share here today won't really matter, if you love cinnamon and use it routinely (on apples, in smoothies, in oatmeal etc), you may want to make the effort to procure Ceylon cinnamon, which has only trace amounts of coumarin and is well tolerated at high doses. It can be found at speciality shops and on Amazon. A simple way to tell if your cinnamon is indeed 'true cinnamon' is to take a closer look at the quills. Cassia cinnamon sticks are tougher and made up of a single layer of bark whereas Ceylon cinnamon is thinner with multiple layers within each bark. As a result, the latter breaks easily. It's delicate flavor is perfect for perking up oatmeal, smoothies, fresh fruit, coffee, tea and hot chocolate whereas cassia varieties work better in baking, meat and savory dishes.

As discussed in a previous post, I like to grind my own cinnamon every few months and store it in airtight containers away from heat and light. I simply smash the barks into smaller pieces in a kitchen towel, dry roast on medium low heat for 1-2 minutes to activate the aromatic oils and powder in a dedicated coffee grinder. The flavor and aroma are the ultimate reward for your labor (it's much easier and quicker than you think). 

Next week, we'll delve into what modern science has uncovered about cinnamon's true health benefits. Until then, let's get baking!

With Love & Spice 

RECIPE

Healthy Chocolate Chip Cinnamon Muffins
Toddler, Kid, Adult

Science Corner
Oats contain a special kind of fiber called beta-glucan which has been shown to lower cholesterol, prevent heart disease, boost immune function, stabilize blood sugar and even prevent breast cancer. Bananas are an excellent source of potassium which is critical for heart function. Creamy and naturally sweet, they contain fiber which aids digestion and is a 'PREbiotic' - food that feeds the good bacteria in your digestive tract. Mangoes are brimming with carotenids like alpha and beta-carotene, which are precursors to Vitamin A production and potent anti-cancer agents due to their antioxidant free radical-scavenging activities. Vitamin A is especially important for eye development in children - being fat soluble, it is well absorbed in these greek yoghurt muffins. Mangoes also offer a boatload of Vitamin C and some B vitamins, particularly folate - if you're pregnant and seeking sources of folic acid, you can devour these with your kids. With blood sugar-stabilizing and anti-inflammatory cinnamon, a touch of honey, low glycemic coconut palm sugar and a few indulgent milk and white chocolate chips, these muffins are just the right amount of decadent while still being so good for you. A truly delicious and nutritious way to start your day!

Yield
12 muffins

Ingredients
2 cups whole grain rolled oats
3/4 cup full fat Greek yoghurt
1 banana
1/2 cup chopped mango (~ 1 medium mango)
2 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup coconut palm sugar (or brown sugar)
2 eggs
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
11/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup white chocolate chips

Method
Preheat the oven to 375F / 190C. Grease a muffin tray or line cavities with paper liners. 

Blend all the ingredients except the chocolate chips in a food processor or blender until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips saving a few for sprinkling on top of each muffin just before baking. Scoop batter into muffin cups until each cavity is about 2/3 full. Sprinkle with a couple of chocolate chips. Bake for about 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin emerges dry. Allow the muffins to cool. Serve or store in an airtight container for 5 days (if they can last that long ;). Makes for a perfect, healthy lunchbox item too!