Sunday, January 9, 2011

Didn't notice a difference, did you?

Weeks go by very quickly these days! But I wanted to stop in and tell you that although I used the Saigon Cinnamon in my recent holiday baking - I noticed no difference from the regular cinnamon which I have always used. Still, the dishes were good!

You can read more about my Saigon Cinnamon plans here.

And now, off to bake some bake some bread! ;)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Spice of Life (Explored)

I love shopping at the local Farmers Market year round. Beyond local fruits and vegetables, eggs and locally-raised meats, there are several different vendors who specialize in spices. I realized that often their prices are better than the ol' grocery store, and because it is their trade, I can actually learn about a new spice at the moment of purchase and decide whether or not to try it out.

I noticed I was getting low on Cinnamon (during the fall and winter season I use more than usual baking pies and other "holiday spiced" desserts). This past weekend, I stopped and reviewed my spice and herb choices while shopping at the Market.

As my eyes roamed over the colorful packets, I chatted with the vendor. (She had asked where I had picked up a pine corsage which I wore on my coat.) When I considered the various Cinnamon packs and sizes, she interrupted and asked if I ever used Saigon Cinnamon. I wasn't sure if I ever tried it, although I knew it wasn't in my spice cupboard.

Upon her encouragement, I sniffed the pack and was rewarded with a strong scent. Very aromatic compared to her "regular" Cinnamon. I asked if she cooked with it and she said that she preferred using it.

I decided to give it a try! I knew that I had two pumpkin pies and another pumpkin dessert planned for this week, so I would have several opportunities to try it out. A couple loaves of banana bread seem likely too. (Note, as of writing this, I haven't used the Saigon Cinnamon yet, but will be baking for the next two days.)

Of course, I decided to do a little digging to learn more about Saigon Cinnamon. Here's what I have learned...

Saigon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureiroi) originated from Southeast Asia and was grown mostly in Vietnam. Most of us know that the spice (and oil) comes from the bark. Looking through a few of my herbal books and even Sloan-Kettering's website, common healing uses of Cinnamon involve reducing inflammation and settling a nauseated stomach (among other things).

James A. Duke (Ph.D.) says in his book, The Green Pharmacy, "My wife takes cinnamon tea when she is nauseated. It helps, and I'm not surprised. Cinnamon contains chemicals called catechins, which help relieve nausea."

Yet remember just because we associate herbs, spices, plants, etc. with "being natural" and thus "naturally" good for us, these wonderful Earth offerings can be dangerous in large doses, or simply unhealthy for some people - period. For example, I noted on Sloan-Kettering's website that you should not take a Cinnamon supplement if "you have hormone-sensitive cancer (cinnamon was found to have estrogenic activity and may be harmful)." Oh my! Who knew? So although a piece of pumpkin pie might not cause harm, for some people, consuming Cinnamon in larger than normal amounts might take away from their good health.

Both Paul Beyerl and Scott Cunningham refer to Cinnamon (all types) as a religious herb. I have read other authors and practitioners who have said the same. And if I may offer up, cooking for many of us IS a religious experience, or even a religious practice. "Common" cooking herbs and spices don't lose their legends, lore, magickal properties, or healing potential because the cook is unaware.

For those of us who enter our kitchens with loving intention, these wonderful gifts scenting our cupboards from across the globe remind us of natural opportunities to further our experience and broaden our knowledge of our craft. We should continue to do so - reading and studying, understanding origins, and trying something new when the chance presents itself. Our kitchens provide us with the setting for an excellent learning experience.

(Closing note, I will report back on the use of the Saigon Cinnamon and will let you know if I noticed a marked difference by using this particular type of spice in my holiday baking. Stop back and learn what I found out!)