Monday, January 17, 2011

Antioxidants Shmoxidants

Apparently, cinnamon is the latest health food. It has super-duper antioxidants, and has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties.  It's slated to be the next food packaging component, since it can inhibit the growth of yuck.  One article even claimed that cinnamon has more antioxidant power than garlic.  My Italian ancestors must be having a collective conniption fit right about now.

I'm all for antioxidants.  I spend a lot of money to avoid carcinogenic ingredients (funny how they abound in the cheap stuff), and read labels obsessively.  But when I came across a cinnamon supplement at CVS the other day, I couldn't help but wonder when bottled air would arrive on the shelf. 

My annoyance is due in part to the fact that cinnamon is ridiculously easy to incorporate into one's diet.  It tops many fruits and several flavors of ice cream with ease.  It's practically required in pies and turnovers.  It can flavor cookies alone or in tandem with other spices.  It practically rules the month of November. I put it in my oatmeal every morning, along with about 19 other toppings.

My friend Leilani insists that cinnamon has no place in savory dishes.  I disagree.  I make a Moroccan chicken concoction that may or may not be authentic, but which is delicious and  contains liberal amounts of cinnamon.  In fact, half the cuisine of the Middle East would be off-limits if Leilani's rule were true.

I also make a lamb stew of questionable authenticity which requires spoonfuls of cinnamon, and not just because I have a point to make to Leilani.  Stews amuse me because there are endless variations to be tried.  I have made this dish with purple sweet potatoes, orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, and with Yukon Golds.  I have added noodles. I have omitted noodles.  I have tried wine in the liquid.  I have varied the spice ratio. I have added carrots and celery, and chunks of squash. I have thrown in whatever vegetables need to be used up.  It's always satisfying. It's always fragrant. And it always contains cinnamon.


  1. In the northern Italian region of Piemonte cinnamon is used quite often in meat sauces and stews, either in stick or powder form, I have no idea how the spice entered the region... In Sicily the same holds true many times along with other sweet spices, thus reflecting the Greek/Turkish influence... If experimenting with the spice for a standard sized recipe use just a small amount being cinnamon can take over a dish. With powder use 1/8th teaspoon, two inches in stick form.

  2. I think the convergence of so many cultures and cuisines is fascinating, and cinnamon is just one example of that, as you mention. Sometimes it makes me wonder what "authentic" really means!
    I agree that cinnamon can be overpowering if used too liberally. I have discovered this by trial and error, of course... I just used it in a red mole sauce the other night that was pretty good!
    I'd love to see some Italian recipes you like that have cinnamon.