There is something very unique and exotic about the flavour of cinnamon that can lift the most mundane of ingredients to new heights.  As a family we eat a fair amount of cinnamon, we have it sprinkled on our breakfast oats everyday and our boys have it on their apple compote every night. We use it in Indian dhals, Mexican moles and Moroccan tagines. All over the world cinnamon is one of the most popular spices and an essential ingredient in so many dishes. Cinnamon has been around for thousands of years, there are traces dating back from the Egyptians who used it in embalming. It was the Arabs who introduced it to the West and dominated the trade for Centuries.



There are four different types of cinnamon but it is loosely split into two distinct categories. There is Ceylon cinnamon, sometimes called ‘true’ cinnamon and there is cassia cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon, as the name suggests originates from Sri Lanka, where 85% of ‘true’ cinnamon is still grown. Ceylon cinnamon comes in thin papery quills that will break easily; it has a much softer and floral flavour and is often referred to as sweet. Almost all other cinnamon is known as cassia and originates from Southeast Asia and is primarily grown in Indonesia, Vietnam, and China. Cassia comes in thick and very hard large quills; it is very strong in flavour and has a bitterness and real spice to it. The word cassia originates from the Hebrew word qtsiah, which comes from the verb meaning “to strip off bark,” which nicely describes how cinnamon is harvested. 


The Harvest

Harvesting and processing cinnamon is still done by hand, on small-scale plantations and with very little mechanization. It is a long process, which consists of allowing the cinnamon trees to grow for 2 to 3 years before cutting them back a few inches from the ground. From here multiple stems shoot up which are allowed to grow for a further one to two years before the cinnamon can be harvested. The outer bark is scrapped off and then the branch is beaten evenly with a hammer to loosen the inner bark. It is this inner bark that carries all the oils in the tree and where the flavour off cinnamon is held. The inner bark is separated in long rolls whilst still wet and then dried. All cinnamon is then fumigated to remove fungal diseases and pests. Traditionally and still now this is done with sulphur dioxide. Sulphur dioxide is one of the oldest fumigant and even though it’s a harmful substance it does disappear over time. How long will depend on the environment the cinnamon it’s been stored in. Grapes are the main crop that gets fumigated with sulphur dioxide and the EU and WHO have very strict rules and regulations on the amount of sulphur dioxide that can remain in a food product. Sri Lanka recently got into trouble with the EU because of its cinnamon having too high levels of sulphur dioxide content. There are alternatives to sulphur, primarily a steam process, but it is a lot more costly and so most cinnamon producers cannot afford the additional expense in the already competitive market. We did try to find out if organic cinnamon uses sulphur dioxide for fumigation or not but we were unable to find evidence one way or the other.



Nutritionally cinnamon is a powerful source of antioxidants, of all the foods in the world it is ranked number seven for antioxidant concentration. The antioxidants in cinnamon have been shown to improve cognitive brain function and reduce brain degeneration. They also have been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes, reduce inflammation and reduce high blood pressure. The oils in cinnamon are a natural anti fungal, anti viral and anti microbial, which is why it was used for embalming in ancient Egypt and is used in many traditional cuisines to help preserve foods. These properties also make it good for preventing illnesses like the common cold.

One of the main flavours of cinnamon is a substance called coumarin, which for people who are sensitive to it can be very damaging to the liver.  For this reason coumarin is no longer allowed as a food flavouring unless it is naturally occurring in the cinnamon.  Cassia has been shown to contain 63 times more coumarin than the Ceylon cinnamon and people who take cinnamon supplements should be aware that they are generally made using cassia. Also, most ground cinnamon is made using cassia rather than the Ceylon cinnamon so if you consume a lot of cinnamon and have liver issues make sure you try to use Ceylon cinnamon.  For us we use Ceylon for sweets and on our breakfast and we use cassia for savoury dishes where it needs to blend with other spices and it needs that extra punch. Like all spices, if you buy them whole and grind them yourself you will get much better flavour than buying pre-ground spices from the shops.

Below is our recipe for a garam masala. The word masala means mix and the word garam means hot, which refers to the heating properties of these spices according to the Ayurvedic diet. A good garam masala is the backbone of many Indian dishes and each household and restaurant has their own unique balance of spices and techniques for getting the most out of each flavour. Without a doubt making your own is a lot better than any shop bought garam masala and will elevate your curries dramatically. Once you’ve made it, it will keep in an air tight container away from sunlight for at least a month, after which the flavour begins to degrade.

Garam Masala


1 tbsp cumin seed

½ tbsp. black pepper

2 x 2 inch sticks of cassia cinnamon

1tsp mace

1tsp cloves

1tsp cardamom


Slow roast the whole spices at 110ºC for at least 1 hour, (some people leave the spices to roast overnight), just make sure they do not burn. Place the whole roasted spices in an electric coffee grinder or a food blender like a NutriBullet. Blend the spices into a fine powder and then store in an air tight container. Sprinkle it in right at the end of your curry or dhal to maintain the full vibrancy of the garam masala flavours.

If you have enjoyed this post and found it interesting or if you have any more information on cinnamon that you would like to share with us please leave us a comment.

Some useful links relating to cinnamon:



Our kitchen is always filled with a large array of spices and the vivid golden colour of turmeric is always present on our spice rack. In the last five years turmeric has seen an amazing explosion in popularity. From trendy coffee shops offering ‘golden milk’ to turmeric supplements and the availability of fresh turmeric in almost all our local health food shops; turmeric seems to be everywhere. The Internet is overflowing with websites making incredible claims about its healing powers. We have been filtering through the noise to see if we can peel back the truths and the implications of the turmeric explosion.


Some background information

Turmeric was first domesticated in Indonesia and Southern India almost 5,000 years ago. In India where it makes up 50% of all curry powders it is also used for it’s powerful yellow pigment as a symbol of purity in religious ceremonies. In the Ayurvedic medicine it has been used to treat all manner of ailments for thousands of years. India is the largest producer and also the largest consumer of turmeric. In the West the primary use of turmeric has been as a natural food colourant. In the US most turmeric is imported and used to colour mustard.
Turmeric is the underground stem or rhizome of an herbaceous plant in the ginger family, Curcuma longa. In it’s fresh form it looks like small fingers, very similar to ginger. Fresh turmeric has become widely available in this country, as the demand has increased. It has a much stronger, earthier pungency than in it’s dried form. Freshly harvested turmeric is ‘cured’ before being dried and powdered. The curing process involves boiling the turmeric in water for 45 minutes, which gives it a more even colour, removes unwanted microbes and the earthy aroma. It is then dried either in the sun or under heaters until it turns brittle so it can be ground into a powder. It is worth noting that many of the active ingredients and flavours of turmeric are UV sensitive so it is one of the spices that it is better dried under artificial heat.



The recent upsurge in turmeric is not so much to do with its use in cooking but as a health food. A quick online search will provide you with a huge amount of health claims for turmeric. This isn’t news to anyone who grew up with an Indian heritage where ‘yellow milk’ has long been the cure for almost all ailments. However in recent years these age old ‘mothers cures’ have been backed up by a lot of solid scientific evidence. Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric and it has demonstrated a remarkable variety of beneficial healing activities. These include antioxidant, anti-arthritic, anti-mutagenic, anti-tumor promotion, antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activities. No wonder it has been the ‘cure all’ remedy for so long. Curcumin has been the main focus in scientific studies but there are over 200 other active ingredients in turmeric and the way they all interact together is very important. Most turmeric supplements only give you the curcumin and eliminate all the other active ingredients and oils that exist in the fresh turmeric root. Companies also use a lot of nasty chemicals (like acetone, ethyl acetate, methanol, ethanol) to extract the curcuma for supplements and colourings in non-organic products. If you are going to use turmeric supplements, always get organic and with make sure it has a high percentage of curcumin. It is also worth noting that curcumin can be difficult for your body to assimilate. Turmeric dissolves in fat so eating it with milk or in curries is best where ghee is used. Also eating turmeric with black pepper will enhance the absorption capacity of the intestines and will make it a lot easier for your body to digest and get the maximum out of the turmeric. Pukka herbs have a great turmeric supplement that is organic and naturally extracted; they even put in some pepper.


Keep it Fresh

The best way to eat turmeric and benefit from its wonderful qualities is to eat it fresh. Fresh turmeric can be found in health food stores and Indian and Asian markets. Like with fresh ginger, choose firm rhizomes and avoid soft and dried ones. Once the turmeric has been cut, it’s best to store it in the fridge in a airtight container, it will keep for a week or two. Although India is the world’s largest producer, in recent years the fresh turmeric we found in our organic shop comes from Peru. This is because Peru used to grow a lot of ginger but recently China has flooded the market with cheap ginger driving the price down, so the Peruvian farmers have now begun to grow high quality turmeric for the Western market.


The main reason we eat turmeric is for its flavour, it’s a key ingredient for our Indian, Moroccan and Caribbean dishes, but we also increase its intake if we are unwell. Turmeric  milk is wonderful if you have a cold and Muriel took turmeric supplements when she was suffering from back pain to reduce the inflammation. It is a wonderful spice with deep earthy flavours and some quite remarkable health properties, there is no doubt it will always play a key role in our kitchen.

Red Lentil Dhal

This is our favourite dhal recipe, we use fresh turmeric whenever possible and always use plenty of ghee and black pepper.


1  1/2 Cups of Red lentils

2 inch piece of fresh turneric

2 inch piece of fresh ginger

2 cloves of garlic

2 tbsp ghee (or processed coconut oil)

2 tsp black mustard seeds

2 tsp cumin seeds

2 cinnamon sticks

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

2 tsp garam masala


Thoroughly rinse the red lentils by covering them in water and stirring them around with your hands then draining them, repeat this 4-5 times until the water is no longer really cloudy. Now peel and chop the fresh turmeric, ginger and garlic and blend together in a pestle and mortar to get the oils and flavours working. Next melt the ghee in a pan and add the mustard and cumin seeds and the cinnamon sticks and fry. Once they begin to pop add the fresh ground spice paste and cook for a further 10 seconds, making sure they don’t catch and burn. Quickly add the lentils and cover with 500ml of water, then add the salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer for approximately 15 minutes. Now remove from the heat, add the garam masala and then cover and leave for the flavours to infuse for 10 minutes before serving.

If you’ve enjoyed this post or this recipe please leave us a comment.

Here are some useful links that we used in our research if you wish to explore turmeric further.



Badj grew up in California and one of his first vivid memories was a game he used to play with his siblings. The family grew chillies in the garden and the kids used to challenge each other to eat as much raw chilli as possible before running back to the house to down glasses of milk to soothe their pain. Meanwhile, Mu grew up in rural France where spicy food was as scarce as hen’s teeth. By the time she met Badj she had only had a few hot, ‘oh my god my mouth is a volcano’ chilli experiences, and generally chilli was to be avoided at all costs. Over the years Badj has slowly introduced and upped the chilli doses and now even though we will cook a mild dish for our young boys, more often than not chillies find their way into our meals.


Chillies originated in Central and South America, where they have been eaten for at least 8,000 years. They were introduced to Europe by Christopher Columbus who mistook them for black pepper and called them peppers (he also thought he had landed in India, hence the natives were called Indians). The Spanish and the Portuguese then took the chilli plant to the rest of the world where it was embraced by local cultures and cuisines. Different varieties of chilli plants were cultivated and now there are over 450 different varieties of chillies of all shapes, sizes, flavours and pungencies, from the bell pepper to the Carolina Reaper. India is currently the largest producer, exporter and also consumer of chillies worldwide.


Chilli is not a taste in the same way that sweet, sour, salty etc is, it comes from the substance capsaicin which is produced by chilli plants. Capsaicin is most concentrated on the seeds and the white pith in the chilli. When we put capsaicin into our mouths it tricks the brain into thinking it has eaten something hot, so the body reacts accordingly by increasing the heart rate, releasing endorphins and sweating. In 1912, Dr Scoville developed a scale to measure the pungency of a chilli which is based on the amount of times the chilli has to be diluted before it no longer has any heat. The bell pepper measures 0 on the Scoville scale all the way up to the Carolina Reaper which has to be diluted up to 2.2 million times before it no longer has any pungency.


Chillies have been used for all sorts of medicinal purposes, from alleviating pain to clearing headaches, psoriasys and stomach ulcers. For modern nutritionists there seems to be a lot of conflicting thoughts and little hard evidence surrounding the health benefits or harms of chillies. It is our personal view however, that if so many cultures worldwide have been eating chillies for so long, they must have something going for them. Chillies are high in vitamin C and vitamin A and have a substantial amount of minerals, particularly when they are red and at their ripest.
One very interesting study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2006 showed that chillies are very good for reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes. The research showed that having chilli with your meal dramatically reduced the amount of insulin required by your body to balance out your blood sugar levels. After eating a chilli rich meal, the insulin levels were between 15 and 24% lower than those with a bland meal.
Chillies are grown and eaten primarily in hot climates for several reasons. Chillies act to cool the body down by making you sweat. Chillies are also often used to mask the taste of food and meats that are just on the turn, which is pretty often if you live in a hot country without refrigeration. Capsaicin is a proven appetite stimulant, so in hot weather when your appetite is suppressed, adding chilli to your diet could be a good way of making sure you eat enough.


Over the last decade the English have really taken a shine to this fiery little condiment. In England chilli farms are popping up everywhere, there are chilli festivals, you can buy chillies from your local shop either fresh or dried. In Brighton, where we live, there is even a designated chilli shop (Chilli Shop). Like all fruit and vegetables it’s important to get the freshest products, locally sourced and organic where possible. Fresh chillies are in season in the UK from mid July till December, we found that this is the best time to enjoy chillies, you can buy them out of season but they are imported and never quite as good. You should look for a good firm texture, they should be nice and shiney and with good rich colours. In recent years, we have been buying fresh chillies from The South Devon Chilli Farm where they are grown without pesticides by a passionate chilli farmer who grows chillies for their flavour as much as their heat. This year we visited the farm and had a tour around the polly tunnels tasting raw chillies grown and bred there from seeds. If you happen to be in the area, we strongly recommend the detour, it’s a chilli heaven!
Out of season, a good way to get your chilli fix is with dried chillies. When dried, chillies can take on completely new flavours, they become much earthier and are great in wintery stews and curries. You can also pick up smoked chillies like chipotle. If you are drying your own it is advisable to use thin skinned chillies and dry them whole until they are very firm then store in an air tight container.


Last year we made a this Trinidad style hot sauce and it won first prize in the Sidewinder chilli festival hot sauce competition so this year we bought 2.5 kg of mixed habanero chillies and made 30 bottles to give to our friends and family. It was such a hit that we had to make another batch a few weeks later and so now we thought we’d share the recipe with you. This is a really tasty and super spicy hot sauce that is much much better than anything you can buy in the shop and is a great way of preserving your chillies so you can have that chilli kick all year round. Watch the video here.

Trinidad Style Hot Pepper Sauce Recipe

This is enough quantity to make 15 x 150ml bottles, you can adjust it according to how much chillies you have and are likely to get through. The key to this recipe is using good quality ingredients, choose organic local vegetables whenever possible and make sure the chillies are really fresh..


  • 1.5 kg of mixed habaneros (scotch bonnets)
  • 100g coconut oil
  • half bulb of garlic
  • large chunk of fresh ginger
  • 2 white onions
  • 4 carrots
  • 200g Dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 4 tblsp raw honey
  • approx 450ml white wine vinegar
  • sea salt


Dice onions and carrots and saute in coconut oil in the biggest pan you can find. Cover and leave to sweat on a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile peel and finely dice the ginger and garlic and set aside. Now roughly chop all the chillies including seeds. We really recommend you put on some latex gloves for this, we didn’t do this once and our hands really burned for a couple of days! Add the garlic and ginger to the carrot and onion mixture and cook for another couple of minutes before adding all the chillies. Then add enough white wine vinegar to generously cover the chillies. Add all the remaining ingredients (mustard, sugar, honey and salt). Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes. You probably want to open all your windows and turn on the extractor fan at this point. Using a blender, a stick blender or a food processor, blend the whole mixture thoroughly. Now taste it to make sure you have a good balance between the sugar and the vinegar and also taste for seasoning. Once you are happy, return to the heat for a couple of minutes to get the temperature back up. Transfer the mixture into sterilised bottles or jars. Make sure the lids are on tight. This hot sauce will keep on for at least six months. Once opened keep refrigerated. Et voila! You have just made your own kick-ass chilli sauce that will blow all the other shop bought hot sauces out the water!


References and useful links:

The Chilli King

South Devon Chilli Farm

The Chilli Shop Brighton  

Chilli World