Cinnamon: The historic spice, medicinal uses, and flavour chemistry

Journal Article
Author(s): Charles Spence
Year: 2024

Cinnamon has long been a popular culinary (and medicinal) spice. Nowadays, in the West, it is predominantly found in sweet foods (e.g., desserts, traditional, and/or seasonal baked foods, such as cinnamon rolls, plum pudding, mince pies, and mulled wine), as well as in many cola beverages, perhaps explaining why it is widely considered to be a ‘sweet’ spice, despite having a slightly bitter taste. Historically, it was commonly used in savoury dishes as well. In the Middle East and India, the spice retains its association with savoury cuisine (e.g., in dishes such as curry and pilau, as well as meat tagines in Morocco). The four major commercially-viable species of cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum, C. cassia, C. burmannii, and C. loureiroi) have distinct flavour profiles, meaning that care should be taken when using this spice in the kitchen, especially given the naming confusion that exists between cinnamon and cassia. Although essential oil is extracted from many parts of the cinnamon tree, only the bark from the lateral shoots tends to be used in cuisine nowadays. Cinnamon is used as the quills (whole or broken parts), as the dried ground powder or, in the food industry, as the essential oil (i.e., as a flavouring agent). The scent of cinnamon also appears in various perfumes/fragrances as well as being a popular element in festive potpourri. There is currently growing interest in cinnamon’s potential neutraceutical, neuroprotective, and prebiotic properties.