Spices surprise me. Not just for how they play unexpectedly with my senses – leaving a tingly nose and perplexed taste buds – but also how they look absolutely nothing like their source. I can never guess where a certain spice came from or what was its form when it was not yet a spice in my neighborhood shop - black peppers used to be green fruits; mace were arils; cloves were once vibrant flower buds; saffron are actually stigmas; turmeric, ginger are roots and rhizomes; asafoetida are resins. Phew!I remember one day as I was roaming around with dadaji on his farm, he pointed at an ordinary tree. “Guess what that tree gives us!” I thought aloud about everything from fruits to flowers to seeds to roots. He shook his head. “Cinnamon”, he said. “It comes from the bark”. He then took out a pocket knife, sliced out a soft bark from the tree and told me to first smell it and then chew on it! I did that while staring at the tree rather confused, not quite able to relate it to my most favorite spice which has so often pepped up my favorite foods and beverages.
“Cinnamon bites and kisses simultaneously”. Agree? Well, in reality, cinnamon does not register on our taste buds (which only register sweet, bitter, umami, salt, and sour). Rather, cinnamon registers as a fragrance or smell which in its case is sweet and woody. So, all the while when we think we know the taste of cinnamon, we actually only know it’s smell. Hmm. Did I mention that spices surprise me?
Whether it’s the whiff or the taste, a hint of cinnamon always leaves a warm, furry, cosy feeling and a big smile on my face. And, though you may blame it for luring you into indulging in all those sinfully calorific desserts, it is good for your fitness. Recent studies claim that cinnamon is an insulin mimicker and can actually assist your weight loss regime and in maintaining the blood pressure.
So, this fall, I plan to sprinkle some more of it around and spice things up. Of the zillion things that you can add cinnamon to… here are my favorite three..tea, apples, and chicken.
5 cm cinnamon stick, plus extra to garnish
4 cups water
2 tsp. tea (or 2 tea bags)
Sugar to taste
1/4 cup (60ml) orange juice
Juice of 1 lemon
Place the cloves and cinnamon stick in a saucepan with the water. Bring to the boil. Pour the boiling water over the tea in a teapot and infuse for 4-5 minutes. Strain. Add sugar to taste, then stir in the orange and lemon juice. Serve hot, garnished with a cinnamon stick in each cup of tea.
Warm Cinnamon Apples
4 apples, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
Toss together the four ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag, tossing to coat apples. Cook apple mixture, 2 Tbsp. water, and 1 Tbsp. butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes or until apples are tender.
Oven-Fried Cinnamon Chicken
1 chicken, 3 lb., cut into 8 pieces
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 cup flour
2 tbsp. milk
1/3 c. bread crumbs
2 tbsp. oil
2 tsp. salt
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, salt, cinnamon, turmeric, and pepper. Coat chicken pieces with flour mix. Whisk egg and milk. Dip chicken into egg and coat with bread crumbs. Arrange in a roasting pan. Sprinkle with oil. Bake until crisp and brown, about 40 minutes.
Which one is your favorite spice ?