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Go heavy with the cinnamon for health

Including cinnamon in your diet each day can lower cholesterol and blood sugar


by: STAFF PHOTO: BARB RANDALL - Cinnamon is a commonly used, fragrant spice. Upping your intake of it on a daily basis can lower blood sugar and cholesterol.

Are you singing the praises of cinnamon’s health benefits these days? I’m hoping you have upped your consumption of the fragrant spice, but, if not, read on. There is compelling evidence that eating cinnamon on a daily basis is good for what ails us.

Research is showing that adding cinnamon to your daily diet can lower cholesterol and lower blood sugar. This is great news for the 25 million Americans who are diabetic and the 80 million more who are pre-diabetic. In an article published in the Journal of Medicinal Food, University of California researcher Paul Davis said cinnamon helps cells to become more responsive to insulin. The effect, he said, is modest, but for those with a pre-diabetic condition who want to use diet to manage their blood sugar, it can be a strategy that works. And besides that, it tastes good and is inexpensive.

Cinnamon is also said to be effective as a cure for medication-resistant urinary tract and yeast infections. It is high in antioxidants and can help prevent certain cancers. It boosts cognitive brain function and memory and relieves arthritis pain. It has an anti-clogging effect on blood and, when added to food, inhibits bacterial growth and food spoilage, making it a natural food preservative.

So are we talking about regular old cinnamon, the key ingredient for snickerdoodles? Yes, but there is more to it. Lake Oswego resident Anne Brown, owner of Savory Spice Shop in Sellwood, explained that what we in the United States know as cinnamon is really cassis, something very similar to cinnamon. Her research suggests that studies done on cinnamon and cassis have found no discernable difference in results. She stressed that she isn’t a medical expert, but felt assured we would benefit from eating either, so we should choose our preference, based on flavor and fragrance. Savory Spice Shop sells several types of both, including Chinese cassis cinnamon, Saigon cassis cinnamon and Vietnamese cassis cinnamon and Ceylon “true” cinnamon and Ceylon “true” organic cinnamon.

From my research I learned that cassis trees, which are grown in Indonesia, Vietnam and China, are allowed to grow to a height of 30 to 50 feet before harvesting begins. The tree produces large, thick leaves and buds, all of which are harvested, dried and sold as a spice along with the bark.

Cinnamon trees, grown in Sri Lanka and South India, are a type of evergreen with soft bark. Farmers allow the trees to grow unchecked for two years after planting and then they whack them pretty severely when they prune, which causes the trees to split off in multiple directions and become more of a shrub than a tree. Farmers harvest the cinnamon twice a year following the rainy seasons. Smaller shoots are cut first, then covered and left to ferment for a short time, then the outer bark is stripped off.

The softer, inner bark is rubbed down and then peeled away from the twig. The bark is stacked in layers and allowed to curl into one another forming quills, what we know as cinnamon sticks. The bark at the lower portion of the cinnamon trees is older and more flavorful; it is scraped down to become ground cinnamon.

What a sweet way to improve your health. This week’s culinary adventure is to sample a variety of cinnamons to find your favorite. Stop in at Savory Spice Shop located at 7857 SE 13th St., in Portland’s Sellwood district. They are open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday and noon to five Sunday. The friendly staff will be happy to assist.

I am enjoying my morning oatmeal much more with a 1/2 teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon sprinkled on top. Jillian Daley, education reporter for the Review, enjoys adding cinnamon to coffee and hot chocolate. I’ve included two recipes today using cinnamon in interesting combinations. The first is a hearty breakfast quinoa and the second is shared by West Linn resident Miffy Jones. Try them both.

Bon Appétit! Make eating an adventure!

Cinnamon-Scented Breakfast

Quinoa recipe

Makes 4 servings

1 cup quinoa (all red or a mix of red, white or black)

1 1/2 cups water

2 cinnamon sticks

1/4 teaspoon salt

Accompaniments:

Broken or chopped walnuts, pure maple syrup or honey, milk and flaky sea salt such as Maldon.

Wash quinoa in several changes of water in a bowl, rubbing grains and letting them settle before pouring off water (if quinoa does not settle, drain in a large, fine-mesh sieve after each rinse), until water is clear.

Drain washed quinoa well in a large, fine-mesh sieve.

Combine all ingredients in a heavy, medium saucepan and bring to a boil, covered. Reduce heat to low and cook, covered, until water is absorbed and quinoa is tender, about 20 minutes.

Remove pan from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and keep covered to keep warm. Remove cinnamon sticks.

Divide quinoa among bowls and top with walnuts, maple syrup or honey, milk, and sea salt.

Cooks’ notes: The quinoa will stay warm, covered but off the heat, for 15 to 20 minutes. Even if a package says that the quinoa is prewashed, washing it is still recommended. The cinnamon sticks can be washed off, dried and reused.

“Gourmet Live,” June 2011

Miffy’s Greek Inspired Crock-Pot Chicken with Cinnamon and

Myzithra Cheese

Serves 4

12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

14 ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

14 ounce tomato sauce

2 cinnamon sticks

4 tablespoons butter

16 ounces pasta (egg noodles are particularly yummy)

1 cup myzithra cheese, finely grated (not shredded)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in skillet. Add minced garlic. Brown chicken thighs in garlic butter. Don’t cook them through, just brown them. Add more butter if needed. Set the chicken aside.

In the same skillet, sauté the chopped onion until about half cooked.

Put the onion, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce and cinnamon sticks in the slow cooker. Stir. Season with 1 teaspoon salt and ground black pepper. Add the chicken pieces and make sure all is covered with the sauce.

Cook on low for approximately 8 hours.

Cook pasta according to package instructions.

Optional: Brown 2 tablespoons butter and I clove minced garlic in the pasta pot after draining the pasta. Stir in hot noodles and 1/2 cup grated myzithra cheese.

Serve chicken over pasta and sprinkle more myzithra cheese on top.

Cook’s notes: If you are in a hurry in the morning you can omit browning the chicken and onion in the garlic butter. Just add the chicken, onion and garlic to the tomato mixture.

You can use boneless, skinless chicken breast, but they tend to get dry.

Myzithra cheese is a Greek sheep’s milk cheese and can be found in the supermarket specialty cheese section. Some sell it already grated, others in a wedge.

Need to feed a crowd? The recipe is easy to double.

Enjoy!

Miffy Jones, Miffy’s Foods, West Linn

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-636-1281, ext. 100 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Follow her on Twitter at @barbrandallfood.




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