Does the above picture evoke any type of emotion in you? Maybe you find yourself suddenly thinking about a comforting, gooey, and sugary baked pastry that is as fluffy as your happiness. Or maybe it reminds you of a spicy and savory dish that has subtle notes of warmth. Both of these imaginary dishes can be traced back to the versatile spice of cinnamon, which is known pretty much all around the world.
While it may be well-known all around the world, cinnamon takes different forms depending on where you're from. For people in the Western side of the world, you may know the spice as a holiday necessity and see it utilized as an ingredient meant to sweeten your palate. Typical examples would be the previously mentioned cinnamon rolls, but also less obvious dishes such as apple pie or raisin bread (pictured above to the right). These western cinnamon foods take advantage of the warmth of cinnamon. The spice is actually created from the bark of 20-60 foot tall cinnamon trees; peeled pieces of the tree bark dry and shrivel up, resulting in a curled "quill" as it is formally known. Western folks find that the warmth of the spice is cozy, and compliments sweet dishes well. The warmth and earthiness of the spice eventually evolved into a home-y ingredient that reminds Westerners of being cuddled up near a fire during the cold wintertime.
Cinnamon itself is definitely not a sweet ingredient. It is, after all, regarded as the cinnamon 'spice' not the cinnamon 'sweet.' (Maybe you've seen the internet's 'Cinnamon Challenge' and know that eating a spoonful ground cinnamon is not the greatest idea!) In fact, the natural forms of many dear foods are not what people believe them to be. Take chocolate, for example. The cacao bean is so bitter and probably inedible until sugar is added. Vanilla, too, is bitter on it's own, despite it's sweet aroma. So cinnamon is not on it's own here. There are also many types of cinnamon, and it has a solid medical history long before showing up in any of our meals. Let's take a look at some cinnamon fun facts:
Although there is a portion of the world that thinks cinnamon is only meant for sugary foods, there is a whole other side of the world that knows another face of cinnamon: the woody, spicy face. These people are largely found in Asia, in places like China, Indonesia, and India, among others. In India, cinnamon is used in pretty much all kinds of curries (picture is below to the left) because it plays a part in the quintessential Indian spice blend known as "garam masala." This is a mix of spices that brings more flavor and aroma to a dish. Garam masala literally translates to "hot spices," but the 'hot' doesn't refer to the spiciness of the ingredients, nor does it refer to the temperature of the ingredients. It instead creates sort of a warm feeling in your mouth, and according to my internet research, it raises your body temperature by increasing your metabolism. Doesn't this seem completely different from the warm, sugary desserts that popularize cinnamon around the USA and Europe?
Cinnamon is a multifaceted spice that you really can't go wrong with. It can be hot and fiery or warm and sweet, but people are used to using it only in the way that it's used where they live. Next time you find yourself using cinnamon, try to do something with it that isn't as familiar to you. If people on the other side of the world like it in a different way, there's a good chance that maybe you will too.