Spice of Life: Cinnamon

Today we launch a new series focused on spices. So for this first day of fall … and because some would argue that cinnamon is the spice of fall, it seems like a great place to begin. Throughout this series, you’ll discover some basic history and tips, along with suggested tea-infused recipes that feature each spice.


Cinnamon’s recorded history dates all the way back to Ancient Egypt (est. 2000 B.C.) where it was used for both cooking and incense. It was also used in Biblical times as an anointing oil.

Arab traders carried it to Europe during the Middle Ages, where it was a luxury item. By keeping their sources a secret, the monopoly continued for many years, which is why it was one of the spices Christopher Columbus was seeking in his journeys.

Cinnamomum verum 002

Cinnamon plant photo: Wikimedia Commons/H. Zell (CC BY-SA 3.0)

In the early 1500s, Portuguese traders discovered cinnamon in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Soon they gained control over both that island’s people and the cinnamon trade for about a century, until the Dutch East India Company took over in the mid-1600s.

By 1800, cinnamon was cultivated in other regions of the world, which made it a less-expensive commodity. Today, there are several distinct types and regions where cinnamon comes from:

  • Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka (known as “true” cinnamon) is more mellow and citrus-tasting with a lighter color. Because it’s less sweet, it’s a good choice for savory dishes. (Often used in England and Mexico.)
  • Cassia cinnamon is native to southern China and other parts of Southeast Asia. It’s stronger and spicy-sweet – think of cinnamon rolls or other recipes where cinnamon has the starring role. The Indonesian version (“korintje”) is what’s most commonly available in the U.S. and U.K.
  • Vietnamese (Saigon) cinnamon is the strongest and sweetest variety. When using it, you don’t need as much. It’s the variety used in Vietnamese cooking, especially for the soup called pho.

Cinnamon comes from the dried inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree that can grow to 25 feet tall. The most common form is either curled as sticks or ground into a powder.

Health Benefits

Over the centuries, cinnamon has often been used in traditional medicine. It’s a good source of fiber, calcium and iron. Because it’s high in antioxidants, it’s believed to be helpful for controlling blood sugar and improving circulation, which is good for heart health. It has been used to improve digestion and reduce nausea and may also help to speed up metabolism. The antibacterial properties may even help to prevent tooth decay.

Cinnamon oil can be used to soothe body aches, as well as toothaches because of anti-inflammatory properties. The aroma alone can help to boost your mood!

Two other interesting uses for cinnamon include facial scrubs and insect repellants.

Cooking with Cinnamon

Cultures around the world use cinnamon in both sweet and savory dishes. It enhances vegetables, main dishes, stews, fruits and desserts. You can sprinkle it on top of baked goods or your morning oatmeal.

In Mexico, it’s commonly added to chocolate. In Persian and Turkish cuisines, it’s a popular ingredient for soups, tagines, and other savory dishes.

Here are a few pairings to inspire you:

  • Fruits: apples, apricots, blueberries, cherries, lemons, pears, plums
  • Veggies: eggplant, pumpkin, tomatoes, zucchini & other squash
  • Meats: beef, chicken, pork
  • Types of cuisines: Indian, Chinese, Mexican, Moroccan, Middle Eastern
  • Other: chili peppers, chocolate, cream cheese, custard, fennel, nuts, vanilla

Many of our tea flavors also include cinnamon:

  • Rooibos: Carrot Cake Fascination, Fiesta de Chai, Grandma’s Pumpkin Pie (seasonal flavor), Chocolate Spice Chai
  • Black tea: Vanilla Spice Chai, Chai at the Beach (seasonal flavor), Cinnamon Apple Chai (seasonal flavor)
  • Green tea: Caramel Spice Delight (seasonal flavor)
  • Tisane/Herbal: October Nights (seasonal flavor)
  • Runa guayusa: Cinnamon Spice

We’ve created numerous recipes featuring cinnamon, including Chai Cinnamon Rolls, Cranberry Apple Butter, and Horchata (Cinnamon Rice Milk). You’ll find many more in our eMagazine archives.

Check out other articles in this series!

(Note: These names will become links as each article is posted.)

  • Allspice
  • Cardamom
  • Cloves
  • Cumin
  • Ginger
  • Nutmeg
  • Paprika
  • Saffron
  • Star Anise
  • Vanilla
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