It’s funny how a chance start to your day can set you off on an unexpected but highly agreeable trajectory. Friday is mostly a research and writing day. I always wake up excited on a Friday. Some of this may be due to the recent opening of our local “Triangle Bakehouse”. Henceforth Friday mornings also mean great coffee and even better bread. There is something gratifyingly indulgent about pausing here, a delightful interlude separating early morning from the working day.

This morning’s interlude included “still warm from the oven” cinnamon buns. This was a first for me. Luckily Seb ignored my “I’ll share yours” request and came back with two. Very sensible. These were mouth-wateringly delicious. As frequently happens with me, my day-dreaming brain was soon contemplating all things cinnamon, rather than the days allotted research.

It turns out cinnamon buns are a relatively recent phenomenon first thought up around a hundred years ago, with Sweden appearing to lay claim to their invention. Cinnamon, on the other hand, is one of the oldest known spices and has been around since 2000 BC., when it was used by the ancient Egyptians as an embalming agent and fragrance. At the turn of the 16th century cinnamon was hugely in demand as a culinary spice, so much so that its trading routes and rights triggered 200 years of European wars. (As an aside, and because I easily fall down interesting rabbit holes; it was around 600 – 1200 A.D. when peppercorns were accepted throughout Europe in lieu of money, hence the term “peppercorn rent”).

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of small evergreen trees, which grow wild in tropical forests (Sri Lanka, southwest India and Asia). And while there are more than 300 different varieties of cinnamon the most commonly used are Cassia (China) and Ceylon (Sri Lanka – also known as Cinnamomum Zeylanicus). Ceylon is considered the more refined of the two and has a slightly sweeter and more delicate flavour. It is also the variety researched for its health benefits.

Cinnamon has a long history of medicinal uses where it was considered a potent anti-bacterial, anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory. There is some great recent research supporting its benefits in blood glucose control in diabetic patients and also as an aid to reducing risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome (a condition which increases the risk of stroke, heart disease and T2 diabetes), and for weight loss in obesity. So, pretty impressive.

Now the research gets a little less rigorous (the study is in mice, not humans), but fascinating so worth adding into the mix. Cinnamon was shown to increase memory function in mice with poor memories. It worked by enhancing neural plasticity in the hippocampus (a part of the brain which is involved in memory formation), basically cinnamon helped the existing brain cells to work harder and perform better. Other studies in mice have shown cinnamon to have a protective effect on ageing brain cells, and also on dopamine neurons in Parkinson’s disease.

So, on balance, and if you like it, it is probably well worth adding cinnamon into your daily diet. It is delicious in stewed fruits, porridge, soaked oats, sprinkled over natural yogurt, added to soups, stews and curries and you can even drink it as a tea. And of course, in cinnamon buns. Roll on next Friday.

Warning! If you are considering using cinnamon medicinally then always chose Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia contains high levels of coumarin, which if consumed regularly and in high doses can pose a health risk.


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