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! 





Calcium Conscious Meal Plan - Toddler & Kid Friendly!

I hate meal planning. For me, it takes away the spontaneity of cooking what I 'feel' like on a particular day. But wait, that was a luxury in my past, pre-kid life oops. Now, I find the week is SO much easier with a little planning. It takes about 15-30 minutes while watching Sunday night reality TV for my to get a plan in place, making things flow smoothly week long. And of course, when the plan fails and toddler boycotts a meal, there's always a almond butter jelly sandwich backup option (we're allergic to peanuts ugh) or takeout pizza - yum. 

Since we've been obsessing about the ultra-important mineral Calcium for the last few weeks, I put together a calcium conscious meal plan with MODERATE DAIRY and many delicious, nutritious non-dairy sources of calcium thrown in the mix, like chia seeds, coconut milk, oranges, edamame, tahini and canned salmon. As you'll see below, the most calcium rich day is actually lowest in dairy. Take that milk!

You can always swap the lunch and dinner options - a quicker lunch and more involved dinner works for our household but that's not always the case. Also, every kid is different in terms of milk drinking proclivities. We've kept the plan at under 16oz of dairy per day where the evidence suggests that calcium and vitamin D needs are optimally met without crowding out other important food groups and nutrients. I hope this inspires you to embrace non-dairy sources of calcium while being mindful of adequate dairy consumption for all its important contributions to kids' nutrition. 

So without further ado, here's a 3 day CALCIUM RICH, TODDLER AND KID FRIENDLY MEAL PLAN with links to our delicious, easy, spiced recipes and shopping list to help you along. Bon Appetit!

With Love & Spice

 

RECIPES

 

DAY 1
Spiced Semolina Porridge
Moroccan Lentil Soup
Mango Lassi Popsicles
Non-Fishy Fish Cakes

DAY 2
Bananatini
Turmeric Hummus
Avocado Tomato Edamame Salad
Cardamom Chicken Rice Pilaf

DAY 3
Spiced Coconut Chia Pudding
Sneaky Swiss Chard Frittata
Turmeric Sunshine Smoothie
Goan Fish Curry
 

SHOPPING LISTS
Most of these items make for a healthy, nutritious fridge that can inspire you beyond this 3 day meal plan to eat healthy for the entire week. Feel free to make some swaps and omissions if this list seems too daunting. For instance, use onions instead of shallots, spinach instead of Swiss chard, parsley instead of basil etc to shorten the list. 

MEAT / FISH / EGGS / DAIRY

180 g canned salmon (preferably wild sockeye)
1 kg boneless or bone-in chicken thighs
2 oz prosciutto 
dozen eggs
250 g firm fish like halibut or salmon
milk
plain Greek yoghurt
hard cheese like cheddar or gruyere
parmesan cheese

PANTRY

fine semolina
brown rice
quinoa
green lentils
whole wheat bread
pita bread
bread crumbs
all purpose flour
canned chickpeas
tahini
olive oil
coconut oil and / or canola oil
maple syrup
honey
coconut milk
chia seeds
dried apricots
dates
tamarind paste

 
 


 

PRODUCE                                    

strawberries
blackberries
oranges
bananas
grapes
1 mango
1 peach
3 Onions
1 Shallot
ginger
garlic
1 sweet potato
1 russet potato
3 new potatoes
bunch carrots
small bunch spinach
small bunch Swiss Chard
1 fennel bulb
1 small eggplant
1 head broccoli
1 avocado
1 tomato
edamame (frozen is fine)
peas (frozen is fine)
green beans
fresh parsley
fresh cilantro / coriander
fresh basil
8 curry leaves (optional)
1 lime

SPICES
Where possible, freshly ground for added flavor and amazingness!

cardamom pods
cinnamon, ground and sticks
whole cloves
paprika
cumin, ground
coriander, seeds and ground
turmeric, powder and fresh root, if possible
caraway seeds















How much CALCIUM do your kids really need???!

In a departure from our usual spice series, we're talking kids' nutrition (with spiced recipes, naturally!). This week and next, it's all about calcium. Calcium is an ultra-important and ultra-confusing topic in nutrition, especially when it comes to our toddlers and kids! How much calcium do kids really need? Is dairy the best source? Questions abound and the conflicting evidence and information are dizzying. We went digging through the data - here is our attempt to make sense of it all. 

CALCIUM
Calcium is a crucial mineral for our bodies. As most of us know, calcium is important for the development of bones and teeth where 99% of it is stored. Somewhat under-appreciated functions of calcium include blood clotting, activation of nerve impulses and muscle contractions, including the beating of our hearts! The first 30 years of life are most crucial for depositing adequate calcium in bones to prevent debilitating fractures in later years. 

HOW MUCH CALCIUM?
Western dietary guidelines recommend 500 - 800 mg, 1000 mg and 1200 mg of calcium per day for kids, adults and older adults respectively. Many experts now agree that these numbers are inflated and aggressive. Here's why:
1) In epidemiological studies, countries like India, Japan and Peru, where average calcium intake is much less than in the West - about 300 mg a day - bone fracture incidence is rather low. This has been termed the "calcium paradox"!
2) In the majority of studies conducted on dairy or calcium intake and bone health, researchers have found no benefit of increased dairy or calcium supplementation on fracture risk above 400 mg / day for adults. In fact, calcium supplements without Vitamin D increase the risk for heart disease and fractures and should be avoided. 
Factoring in these data, the UK has now lowered its recommended calcium intake to 700 mg / day for adults aged 19 - 50. 

IN SUMMARY
1) Adequate calcium intake in the first 30 years and throughout life is essential for bone health and other pivotal functions 

2) The exact amount of calcium necessary for optimal bone and general health is unclear but the current recommendations of 800 mg / day for kids and 1000 mg / day for adults are likely inflated.

3) Calcium supplements without vitamin D can be harmful and are best avoided. 

In Part II of our Calcium series next week, we'll get into the dairy debate and discuss why dairy should not be the only source of calcium for you and your kids. Until then, here are 3 of our favorite non-dairy sources of calcium for kids <nomnom>

1) Edamame / Soy Beans


CALCIUM 

Essential for strong
bones and teeth
Important for blood
clotting, nerve cell
signaling and heart
beat
Current guidelines for intake in the West likely inflated 
 

RECIPE

Bananatini 
(Banana Tahini Honey
Cinnamon Slices)

               Toddler, Kids,                    Adults
 



 
Rich in calcium (1 cup is 100 mg) and other goodies like protein, fiber, vitamins A and C and plant-based iron, edamame are a great tool to get more nutrition and calcium into your kids' diets. I boil mine for 4-6 minutes, drain and season with sea salt, a pinch of coriander powder and lime juice. Yum. You can also add them to soups and pasta for a nutrition boost. 

2) Oranges (yes oranges!)


I knew that orange juice was fortified with calcium these days but was surprised to learn that good ol' all natural oranges have calcium! Two small oranges, a regular snack for my tot, have about 80 mg of calcium or 10% of the rather inflated 800 mg target per day. They also come packed with vitamin C and fiber. What's not to love about that?!

3) Tahini - the new Peanut Butter!


White sesame paste or tahini, commonly used in hummus, is a delicious, nutritious, creamy source of non-dairy based calcium. 1 tablespoon provides about 80 mg of calcium not to mention B vitamins, good fat, protein and other nutrients. We like it in our turmeric hummus of course but also simply slathered on sliced bananas with a drizzle of honey or date syrup and cinnamon.