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! 





Paprika Part I

This summer my parents invited us to join them on a family holiday on the Spanish island of Mallorca so we embraced the 'joys' of a 12+ hr flight with a toddler and went. Having never been to Spain before, I soaked in the culture, the wine (literally) and the FOOD! Ohhhh the food. Patatas bravas, Octopus a la plancha, Padron peppers, Croquettes of every kind that my son Ilhan inhaled, I could go on and on. I quickly saw that aside from being simple yet delicious, most Spanish dishes had one other thing in common - the spice paprika. 

Research revealed that paprika is in fact native to Central and South America and the West Indies and was only introduced to the New World by Portugal and Spain. Paprika is made from grinding dried peppers - sweet bell peppers, hot green peppers and everything in between - of the Capsicum anuum family. It is now used worldwide but particularly dominates the spice racks in Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Latin America. Sweet paprika is the norm in the West these days though you can find moderately spicy and very spicy versions if you look hard enough. Ultimately however, the king of all the paprikas and the most revered in culinary circles is smoked paprika. Known as pimenton in Spain, it is prepared by smoking peppers over an oak fire unlike the conventional air drying method.  It can also be found as sweet, moderately spicy and spicy versions. 

Smoked paprika is my favorite and I have to restrain myself from adding it to all that I eat but it doesn't actually work with everything. It is smoky and robust which is why it's amazing but it can consequently  overpower delicate ingredients. Sweet paprika is more mild and versatile. It lends a lovely flavor reminiscent of its parent peppers not to mention the gorgeous reddish-orange hue that makes it so pretty as a garnish on things like deviled eggs. It can liven up mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, roast chicken and fish, popcorn - the list is long! I suggest having one sweet (Spanish or Hungarian) and one smoked (Spanish) jar in your pantry. We will work with both in this series. The sweet kind is definitely the best way to introduce the spice to babies and kids and you can work your way up the smokiness ladder from there. I would recommend staying away from spicy or picante versions of paprika for the kids unless yours are the uberadventurous kind. 

We've talked ad nauseam about spices being a potent component of nature's pharmacy and we won't stop now. Paprika's claimed health benefits include:

1) Anti-inflammatory effects from capsaicin (found in spicy cayenne pepper in larger amounts). Topical application of capsaicin containing compounds is suggested to relieve arthritic pain. 

2) Stimulation of salivary glands to aid digestion.

3) Antioxidant effects from the 4 carotenoids found in paprika - beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthine, lutein and zeaxanthin. 

4) Anti-cancer effects due to its high antioxidant content. 

5) Anti-bacterial effects.

6) Vitamin A from 2 of the 4 carotenoids - beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthine - which is pivotal for good eye and vision development in children. One teaspoon provides a substantial 37% of the daily requirement of vitamin A based on a 2000 calorie diet. 

7) Vitamins E, B-6 and Iron 

Typical of our format at Spice Spice Baby, our next post will look at these claims from a scientist's lens to explore which have been tested and validated by modern medicine. Until then, let's eat! 

RECIPES

Paprika was the first spice I introduced my son to when he was 7 months old.  While he has now progressed to loving and devouring smoked paprika combinations, I started him off with the sweet version which is what we'll do for our first recipe in the series. I would discourage the use of smoked paprika here as it may overpower the delicate flavors of the fennel and leeks. We'll have loads of opportunities to play with the smoked version in subsequent recipes. 

PAPRIKA POTATO POTAGE
6 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult

Nutrition

All too often, potatoes are thought of as fattening comfort food and not much else but that's absolutely not the case. They are a source of vitamins and minerals especially Vitamin B6 that is indispensable in the synthesis of amino acids which are building blocks for protein in the body. They are also starchy and superb for the energy demands of growing babies and toddlers. Cauliflower like all cruciferous veggies, is brimming with phytonutrients which help detoxify the body. It's also a great source of Vitamin C and is being studied extensively for its anti-cancer effects. It can be a bit hard to digest for some folks which is why we combine it with fennel which aids digestion and also packs a Vitamin C punch. Leeks are milder and sweeter than onions and my absolute favorite especially with other delicate ingredients like fennel and potato. They provide folate and phytonutrients making this potage (essentially a thick soup) truly nutritious comfort food for babies and everyone else. The Gruyere cheese and paprika elevate the dish to a yummy place. In the textured / adult bruschetta variation, the goat cheese addition is creamy and fabulous especially paired with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Yield

5 5oz baby portions
2 adult or 2-3 toddler portions

Ingredients

1/2 leek white and light green parts sliced
1/2 cauliflower head coarsely chopped
1 Russet or Yukon Gold potato chopped
1/2 fennel bulb chopped
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 - 1 cup water or chicken stock
1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese 
Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

Method

Heat the oil in a pressure cooker or medium pot until warm but not smoking. Add the paprika into the oil and sauté for 10 seconds to activate the flavors. Add the leeks and sauté for 2 minutes until softened. Add the potatoes, fennel, cauliflower and water or chicken stock (3/4 cup if using a pressure cooker otherwise 1 cup or until the veggies are just covered) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook with lid partially on until the potatoes are cooked through, about 10 minutes in the pressure cooker or 20 minutes in the pot. Puree the mixture, stir in the grated cheese and add salt and pepper if you like. 

Textured Bruschetta Variation
Kids, Adults

Add the above ingredients except for the potatoes, cheese and water to a roasting pan increasing the olive oil to 2 tablespoons and the paprika to 1 teaspoon. Add some salt to taste. Roast at 400F / 200C for 30 minutes or until the cauliflower has softened to your liking. Be sure to give the mixture a good stir every now and then to prevent burning. 

Serving Suggestions

Serve the potage as a soup with some crusty bread or as a baby meal. You can skip the cheese if you haven't introduced dairy to your little one yet. I also serve it as a 'gravy' for grilled chicken to my toddler who is a tad picky about the texture of dry pieces of meat.

The roasted vegetables can be served as a side dish with a piece of meat or fish but I especially love them on a slice of baguette with dollops of goat cheese, chopped tarragon and a drizzle of olive oil pictured here. As you can see I could barely manage a photo before I dove in. 

Happy healthy eating!

With Love & Spice, 

Your ChiefSpiceMama

Download the potage recipe here. 

Download the bruschetta recipe here. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 


ANCIENT WISDOM

Anti-inflammatory
Weight Loss
Antioxidant
Digestion aid
Anti-cancer
Vitamin A

RECIPES