Original Cin: Will the “true cinnamon” please stand up?

by Denise Reynolds, Enchantress of Spices at HAALo

Its location for centuries shrouded in mystery, its acquisition a dark cloud in European history, a spice so valuable it was kept in treasure chests, and once burned by a king to atone for his guilt-ridden quest. Cinnamon, a distant relative of bay laurel, is mentioned in a 5000 year old Chinese book of medicine and it was used by the Egyptians at least as far back as 2000 B.C.


By the sixth century B.C. cinnamon had become known as “an aroma of divine worship and of sensual luxury,” writes Andrew Dalby in “Dangerous Tastes”. It was the first culinary spice sought after by Europeans in the ancient world and I find it curiously ironic that it is also the first culinary spice we are given/drawn to as children. Sweet and fiery, clovey and complex; a fragrance that tantalizes, smells of whimsy and fancifulness, of danger (like red-hots) and of comfort (like cinnamon-raisin oatmeal).

Cinnamon seems to be as much shrouded in mystery today as it was in the ancient world because of the multiple varieties available and used by different cultures. We predominantly use Cassia cinnamon that can be from one of several species or cultivars. This type originally came from China and Southeast Asia, is easier to cultivate, and thus, less expensive. It has more fire and is also sweeter tasting than Ceylon cinnamon, originally from Sri Lanka.


Ceylon cinnamon is milder, sweet without being spicy hot, and has more complex flavors that highlight the citrus and floral notes. It has the botanical name of ”Cinnamomum verum” which translates as “true cinnamon” and herein lies the cinnamon debate. This is the type of cinnamon that was originally imported into Europe and is still used there and in Mexico.

With the ancient cinnamon trade being such a bloodthirsty and lucrative spice to control, it is likely that when the cheaper Chinese cinnamon came on the market that this name was given in order to convince people that Chinese cinnamon was a fake. They are different, but closely related, species from the same genus of Cinnamomum. One isn’t any more real or “true” than the other; it’s just a matter of preference.

In addition to taste there are two other main defining characteristics; texture and medicinal qualities. Cassia cinnamon sticks are the hard “quills” we’re familiar with while Ceylon sticks are several layers of papery thin bark rolled into scrolls that look cigar-like (you might have seen these in Mexican spice sections of grocery stores).

Both types of cinnamon are used medicinally. I will leave those qualities up to the herbalists to decipher except to say that there is some concern about the coumarin content of Cassia cinnamon. If you use more than 2 teaspoons of cinnamon per day you may want to look into the dangers of coumarin, which can cause liver damage and interfere with blood coagulation.


To most of us cinnamon is associated with sweet comfort foods: apple pie, cinnamon rolls, oatmeal, mulled-cider, and my personal favorite – campfire roasted apples (roast on a stick till soft, peel while warm and roll in cinnamon and coconut sugar –yum!). When my mom was growing up, her mom didn’t keep cookies in the house and so to make a treat for the kids she would make up bread and butter with cinnamon sugar. It can stir those kinds of pleasant memories for most of us, and it does make food seem sweeter, even without the addition of sugar.

Cinnamon is more often used as a savory spice in Morrocan, Indian, and Mexican cooking, as well as Chinese and other Asian cusines. It’s a key-ingredient in ethnic finishing spices like Chinese five-spice powder and Indian garam masala.

To introduce you to the savory side of cinnamon I’ve included a few recipes to pique your taste buds! Also, try keeping ground cinnamon on your counter and adding a spoonful to something you’re making to taste the effect. Sprinkle it in your coffee! Add it to whipped cream! Or, nibble on slivers of Ceylon cinnamon stick with bits of dark chocolate – cinfully good.

Ok, back to the savory side of things: I’ve included three recipes below for you to try. Indulge yourself in the aroma and taste of sensual cin!

In bulk, HAALo carries both ground Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon, chips of cinnamon (Cinnamomum Verum), Cassia cinnamon twigs (Gui Zhi), Vietnamese cinnamon bark (Rou Gui) and Cassia cinnamon sticks.



Cinnamon-Spiked Tomatoes (Served on chevre or other cheeses and crackers)
from thekitchn.com
serves 8-10 as an appetizer


1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/4 of a medium jalapeño, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon honey or sugar
salt and pepper

Drain the tomatoes and put in a medium bowl.

Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan on medium heat. Add the jalapeño, season with a pinch of salt, and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, allowing the jalapeño to soften and mellow a bit. Add the cinnamon, cook for 30 seconds, and remove from heat.

Add the jalapeño and cinnamon mixture to the tomatoes, then add the sugar. Stir to combine, and add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve on cheese and crackers.

Variation to add richer flavor: Reserve liquid from tomatoes. Mix a pinch of salt into tomatoes and let sit for 10 minutes. Spin tomatoes in a salad spinner to reduce moisture content. Add this plus the reserve liquid to pan and reduce before adding jalapeno.


Roasted Acorn Squash with Cinnamon Butter
Serves 8 as a side dish


2 acorn squash (about 1 1/2 pounds each), unpeeled, quartered lengthwise, and seeded
1 tablespoon olive oil
Coarse salt and ground pepper
4 tablespoons butter
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. On a large rimmed baking sheet, toss squash with oil; season with salt and pepper. Arrange on sheet, cut side down, and roast until easily pierced with a paring knife, 35 to 45 minutes.

In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat, stirring, until golden brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Immediately pour into a small bowl; stir in cinnamon. Place squash on a serving platter; top with cinnamon butter.


Chicken Biryani Spiced with Cinnamon

from Saveur.com


1 cup basmati rice
3 tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. whole coriander
3 chiles de arbol, crumbled by hand
1 ½ tbsp. kosher salt
2 ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
4 skinless, bone-in chicken thighs
4 skinless, bone-in chicken legs
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 2″ piece ginger, roughly chopped
1 jalapeno, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
¼ cup toasted sliced almonds, for garnish
Fried shallots, for garnish
Cilantro leaves, for garnish

HAALo Shopping List

coriander seeds
ground cinnamon
dried chiles



Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the rice in a small bowl and cover with water; let it soak for 20 minutes. Drain the rice and set it aside.

Heat the oil in a 4-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the coriander and chiles, and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add the salt, cinnamon, garlic, chicken, onion, ginger, and jalapeno, and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften, about 6 minutes.

Stir in the reserved rice and 1 ¼ cups water, and bring to a simmer. Cover pot and transfer to the oven; cook until rice is tender and chicken is cooked through, about 35 minutes. Transfer the pot to a rack and let it sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff the rice with a fork. Transfer to a serving platter and garnish with almonds, fried shallots, and cilantro.


Denise-Reynolds-HAALo-sqDenise Reynolds, The Enchantress of Spices, is a culinary sensualist and founder of The Sensual Feast. She consults and teaches cooking workshops offering the opportunity to delight in the preparation, flavor, and deep nourishment of food as a gateway to pleasure and sensuality. Learn to experience the kitchen as sacred space and how, as we play in the kitchen, we have the opportunity to inspire our lives again and again with every meal. Check out her Facebook page The Sensual Feast for event details and the following video for a little taste of her classes.



Manzanita: our local superfood

by Alicia Funk

Although “nature” is a word used commonly with reverence, much of our real, daily connection to the natural world has been lost. With a changing climate, a 75% loss in food diversity over the last century, the introduction of patented, genetically modified food (GMO’s), and the decline of cultural knowledge of the food uses of native plants, humans are now in a nutritionally vulnerable position.


In the last century, we’ve switched from eating an abundance of local plant varieties, with 30,000 edible species worldwide, to only consuming a narrow range of high-yield species, which, in many cases, lack the taste and the nutritional content of what we enjoyed a hundred years ago and whose cultivation requires significant environmental resources. According to the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), 95 percent of the food humans consume comes from only 30 crops, with the majority consisting of rice, wheat, maize, millet, and sorghum.

Local Manzanita berries are one example of a forgotten local food with a long history of use as a food, enjoyed both as a cold cider and ground into raw flour. Ripe when round and deep red in color, the berries can be eaten raw, used as a condiment, added to smoothies or used for baking. Initial studies have shown it to be three times higher in antioxidants than blueberries. Manzanita only grows well under drought-tolerant conditions, a key consideration as water conservation becomes increasingly important in growing food.


Food localization means cultivating a sense of place—a deep awareness of the land we call home. It is a process that depends upon science and traditional indigenous knowledge as well as the continuing exchange of new ideas on sustainable interdependence within the native habitat.

Declining diversity and nutritional content in commercial food crops, loss of genetic control of food from the hands of farmers to the intellectual property of multi-national corporations, disappearing indigenous knowledge systems and difficult to predict climate changes, make it imperative to encourage regional, wild food sources, through cultivation and sustainable wild harvest. With a collaborative approach designed to share information and resources, communities can grow and gather nutrient-dense food crops that protect biodiversity and cultural heritage, while bringing families back outside.

Collect your own berries in the next two weeks (click here for gathering tips) or find the ready-to-use Manzanita sugar at HAALo.



Alicia-Funk-author-sqAlicia Funk is the founder of the Living Wild Project and co-author of the 2nd edition of Living Wild—Gardening, Cooking and Healing with Native Plants of California. Her passion is discovering how to eat, garden, and heal through the sustainable use of local, native plants.

Funk first studied plant-based medicine in 1990 from an indigenous grandmother in Ecuador’s rainforest and is the co-editor of six books on herbal medicine, including The Botanical Safety Handbook, Herbal Medicine-The Expanded Commission E Monographs and The ABC Clinical Guide to Herbs. She worked for 20 years as a consultant to the natural products industry for organizations including Whole Foods and the American Botanical Council and now focuses her time on discovering new recipes that highlight the nutrition and taste of wild California plants.

She lives off-the-grid with her husband and their three children.

Hold the sugar, pass the Monk Fruit

by JuJu Bearwoman

You want sweet? How about trying the extract of a fruit in the Cucurbitaceae family that is 300 times sweeter than sugar, which has been used to treat rather than induce diabetes? Does the name “the immortals’ fruit” sound appealing? Known in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) as Luo Han Guo, monk fruit goes by the botanical name Momordica grosvenori.


Monk fruit is a cucumber relative that grows as a vine, producing little round fruits around 5–7cm in diameter when mature; both the inside of the fruit, which is the sweet part, and the shell, slightly bitter and astringent, are used. At HAALo, we carry the fruit in two forms: the entire monk fruit ball or the ball crushed into pieces, by weight.

The two main carbohydrates in this fruit are fructose and glucose, but it also derives some of its sweetness from a group of triterpene glycosides called mogrosides, which are being validated in modern research as having antioxidant and anti-cancer effects.

In TCM, this fruit is indicated to clear heat while moistening the lung and large intestine…more specifically, to treat cough and constipation due to blood dryness and stomach heat. Try using it in some creative recipes for tea or in stews, curries, and congees.

What makes this plant even sweeter? It has heart-shaped leaves!

Here’s one of my favorite iced tea recipes that I have been enjoying all summer long:

Hibiscus and Monk Fruit Tea Infusion

1 Quart of water
1 Tbsp monk fruit bits
2 Tbsp hibiscus flowers
Slice of lemon to add per serving (optional)

Bring water to boil and pour over herbs in a quart-sized mason jar or similar container. Let cool and add ice or keep in fridge. Add the slice of lemon before serving.

Iced or hot, it’s a great way to rehydrate, and can even be used as an alternative to coconut water.

JujuJuJu, a HAALo intern, officially entered her path as a healing artist by developing her repertoire in massage at the Natural Healing Institute in Encinitas, California in the spring of 2004. She is passionate about learning traditional healing modalities of various cultures and promoting the alchemy of homemade remedies.



Konoshima T and Takasaki M (2002). “Cancer-chemopreventive effects of natural sweeteners and related compounds”Pure Applied Chemistry 74 (7): 1309–1316. doi:10.1351/pac200274071309.