The other day I put cinnamon on my oatmeal, taking a moment to marvel at its color and aroma. I thought, “Cinnamon is a fascinating thing!” Realizing how little I knew about it, I decided to do some reading on this tasty little spice.
Cinnamon, one of the world’s oldest spices, is obtained from the inner bark of several tropical evergreen trees from the cinnamomum family. Today there are basically two types of cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon. Cassia is more
common and is probably the one you have in your kitchen cupboard. As you probably know, cinnamon is sold in two forms: in dry tubular form or sticks (called quills) and as powder.
Cinnamon has been around since antiquity. Historical records show that the Chinese used it in their medicine as far back as 2,700 BC. In 2,000 BC the Egyptians used cinnamon in beverages, medicine, and as an embalming agent. There are several references to cinnamon in the Bible. Moses, for example, commanded the people to use cinnamon in the holy oil of anointing (Ex. 30:23). It was also used in incense on the altar in Jerusalem. In the Song of Songs (4:14), the lover’s bed is perfumed with myrrh, aloes, and (you guessed it) cinnamon.
The historian Pliny tells us that, in ancient Rome, 327 grams of cinnamon (11.5 oz.) sold for 300 denarii. That’s what a laborer made in ten months! At times cinnamon was more valuable than gold! Why was it so expensive? Because for centuries the source of cinnamon was a carefully guarded secret. Traders refused to divulge its source as a way to control the market and make more money. So, for a long time people had no idea where cinnamon came from. Rumors said it came from birds’ nests and even from fish in the Nile!
The website Kitchen Dictionary calls cinnamon “one of the biggest workhorses on the spice shelf.” Cinnamon is used in our apple pies, cinnamon buns, donuts, candy, coffee, and tea. (Whenever I’m at an airport, I am always tempted by the aroma emanating from the Cinnabon store. Are you? I seldom give in to the temptation, though, after I learned one cinnabon has 890 calories!) Historically, cinnamon was also thought to be an aphrodisiac. Is that one reason men and women love apple pies so much? Is that the origin of the proverb: the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach? Who knows?! We also use cinnamon in our breakfast cereals as well as in chicken dishes, lamb recipes, stews, and sauces. We use it as an alcoholic flavorant too, such as Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, Red Stag Spiced by Jim Bean, and certain vodkas. (I have not tried any of these. Yet.)
Even ancient people sensed cinnamon’s medicinal properties. At one time it was thought to cure snake bites, freckles, the common cold, and kidney problems. Today there is evidence that cinnamon possesses anti-viral properties. It is also believed to help control blood glucose levels in type 2 diabetics. Researchers continue to test cinnamon as an antioxidant in the fight against colon cancer and as an inhibitor to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. For the vast majority of people, cinnamon has no adverse side affects. But consuming too much cinnamon can cause liver and kidney damage in some individuals.
What does all of this have to do with everyday spirituality? Cinnamon is a wonderful little gift. It spices up our life (pun intended.) It also has definite health benefits. And yet, like many of the gifts we have received from our imaginative and magnanimous Creator, we can take it for granted. Sometimes (like today) it’s just good to take a few minutes to give thanks.
Thank you for cinnamon,
that tasty little spice you tucked away for us
in the inner bark of those tropical evergreen trees.
Thank you for the beauty of its color, the pleasure of its aroma,
and the delight it adds to our apple pies, buns, coffee, tea, meats, sauces, cereals, and alcoholic beverages.
Thank you too for its medicinal benefits,
those we’ve already discovered,
and those which we may uncover in the future.
May we continue to learn about and enjoy the many gifts
you have given to us for our pleasure and health.
And may we never take these precious gifts for granted. Amen.
What has been your experience with cinnamon?
Are there other gifts you’d like to thank God for?
PS: The Cinnabon company claims their products have “unmatched crave appeal.” They welcome you to stop by their counter “for your mini vacation.” And their motto is: “Life needs frosting.” I was thinking, could our Church learn anything from them when it comes to evangelization? Any thoughts?