Grinding cinnamon fresh is worth the effort. The flavor outcomes are more intense. Just as we advocate taking the time to grind our coffee beans right before we brew, the enhanced sensory experience pays taste dividends on the additional effort.
I toss cinnamon on my sweet potatoes for the taste, but turns out, I might be doing something powerful for my health in the process. From NPR:
For years, there have been hints that adding cinnamon to your diet can help control blood sugar. And a recent spate of studies adds to the evidence that the effect is real.
“Yes, it does work,” says Paul Davis, a research nutritionist with the University of California, Davis. He authored a recent meta-analysis published in the Journal of Medicinal Food that concluded that cinnamon lowers fasting blood glucose.
“According to our results, it’s a modest effect of about 3 to 5 percent,” Davis says. This is about the level of reduction found in the older generation of diabetes drugs, he says.
Out of ground cinnamon in my spice rack yesterday, I stumbled across some sticks that I had ambitiously purchased weeks back. These sticks take the form of tightly rolled tree bark, but smooth.
Farmers harvest the cinnamon twice a year, immediately following rainy seasons. Smaller shoots are cut first. They are covered and left to ferment for a short time, then the outer bark is stripped off.
The softer, inner bark is rubbed down, then peeled away from the twig. During processing, workers stack several layers of bark and allow them to curl into one another to form “quills” or cinnamon sticks. Ceylon cinnamon quills will resemble a tightly rolled cigar once dried.
The lower portion of the cinnamon tree, where the bark is older and more flavorful is scraped down to become ground cinnamon.
Lovely. We know this is real cinnamon and will work for our purposes. Now how the f to “scrape” the spicy sticks down?
You know how we feel about trial and error around here. I immediately tried a cheese grater and was quickly shut down. The holes were too big, the blades not quite sharp enough. I threw a stick in my coffee grinder, and that did the trick, albeit not perfectly. Upon shaking the “grounds” on my already grilling sweet potatoes, the bigger chunks of my spice left me wondering about the overall effectiveness of my method.
In the future, I may work with a different device. Stephanie, our superstar (know it all) editor judged me for being a savage and suggested this more refined and sophisticated approach. Whatever.
My more savage approach gave me an imperfect, but exceptionally flavorful, outcome. My potatoes came out with more intense, richer notes.
The experience of cinnamon sticks freshly ground onto sweet potatoes vs. the traditional spice rack variety is analogous to the difference between covering a steak with minced garlic sautéed in butter over using garlic powder. Both are good, the former is more pleasing to the senses.
This post isn’t just about cinnamon. You know we preach efficiency around here. Just as we’re always mindful of our time spends, we should be wary of when conveniences begin to cost us. Buying pre-ground cinnamon may save us a few seconds in time, but we might pay for that savings in money, flavor and aroma.
Life’s sensory experiences are enhanced when we have options. I can shake cinnamon from a jar, I can break sticks up with a coffee grinder or I can use Steph’s contraption. They all have their virtues. Variety is the spice of life (sorry, it just fit).