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.



Who doesn’t love garlic? We certainly do. It flavors pretty much all the meals we cook and our house often is filled with the smell of garlic simmering in butter, much to our neighbors delight. We eat it raw, cooked, roasted and we love it so much that a few years ago our small vegetable patch was given exclusively to growing garlic. Fresh garlic is now back in season and selling at farmer’s markets. There’s never been a better time to talk about this little vegetable pearl. Garlic is really a little miracle in itself and this is why.


Humans have been cultivating garlic for over 7,000 years, both for food and for medicinal purposes. It originated in China and is part of the Allium family that includes onions, shallots and leeks. The average European consumes 1 and a half cloves of garlic every day, which is nothing, compared to the Chinese who consume a whopping 8 cloves a day. The garlic plant is easy to grow and can be grown year-round in mild climates, however different strains have been bred to suit different climates and may not do so well dependent upon soil type, moisture, latitude and altitude. There are 70 different varieties of garlic found worldwide that can be split into two groups, softneck and hardneck. Softneck varieties (Artichokes, Silverskins, Creoles)  have no flower and a semi hard stalk, they produces many more cloves with a softer grassier taste, they can be planted mechanically and can be stored for longer than the hardneck varieties. This makes them very popular with supermarkets and mass producers.  Hardneck garlic (Porcelain, Rocamboles, Purple Stripe) produces a stiff flower stalk and spicy and well-flavoured cloves. However it doesn’t keep as long as the softneck varieties and requires more care to grow so is typically found at farmers markets and small-scale growers. Generally mass produced garlic varieties are chosen for their productivity rather than their flavor.


Here is the science bit, but we recommend you continue to read on as it could change the way you cook and eat garlic. Garlic is the most pungent of the allium family. Each garlic clove has a high concentration of the enzyme alliinase locked away in little compartments. As soon as you cut or crush garlic the alliinase is released and comes into contact with oxygen and water. This creates a chemical reaction that turns the alliinase into allicin and other pungent types of sulfur. It is the allicin that gives garlic the pungent fiery taste on the tongue. The chemical transformation from alliinase to allicin happens in spurts every 6.5 minutes. It takes a total of 90 minutes for all the alliinase to turn into allicin. So if you are using raw garlic in a dish it will take 90 minutes for the full strength of allicin’s punchy flavour to be reached. When garlic is put into an acidic environment like vinegar, also when it is ingested or cooked, the alliinase enzyme is permanently deactivated so it cannot turn into the pungent sulfur allicin. This is why when you roast whole garlic it doesn’t produce any allicin and hence it has none of that fiery garlic punch. If you want that garlic punch in a cooked dish, you must crushed or chopped the garlic and leave it for 90 minutes to get the most allicin before cooking. However allicin is not a stable compound and will begin to brake down into its component parts. It takes around 45 minutes when cooked and around 5 days at room temperature for it to break down into it’s oil soluble and water soluble compounds. When you eat raw garlic the body breaks down the allicin and it is these compounds that give garlic the majority of its healing properties.


Garlic has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years and is still by far one of the best ways of getting rid of a common cold. More than 160 of the elements that make a bulb of garlic are bioactive, meaning they can affect our body. Garlic has exceptional anti-viral and anti fungal properties and it does not damage the healthful intestinal flora. It is very rich in Vitamin C, which give the immune system a boost but also in Vitamin B6 and Manganese.
Garlic is rich in selenium, which aids the thyroid gland, supports the health of the immune system and prevents DNA damage by limiting the activity of free radicals.
The allicin formed from crushing raw garlic is a very powerful antibiotic that kills bacteria including certain bacteria that have become immune to modern antibiotics such as MRSA staph. It can be used to treat snake bites, get rid of E. coli, kill bacteria on foods and keep cuts and abrasion free of infections but it only works when applied directly to the wound or infection. This is because as soon as you ingest the raw garlic the saliva and stomach break down the allicin into its oil soluble and water soluble compounds. The oil soluble compounds are what gives you garlicky breath. They are a powerful antibacterial that can enter the lymphatic system and they strengthen the immune system by stimulating the body to build antibodies. The oil soluble compounds have also been shown to have success in inhibiting lung, skin and breast cancer. The water soluble compounds of allicin have no antibacterial properties and no smell but have excellent circulatory system benefits including lowering blood pressure, blood sugar, triglycerides and total cholesterol and inhibits clotting.
Scientists have synthesized these compounds but found they simply did not affect the body in the same way as natural garlic. This is because it is not just the individual elements of the garlic compounds but the way all of them interact together with the body that makes garlic such a powerful medicinal food.


Now, as we already said, China produces at least 75% of all the garlic worldwide. Almost all the garlic in supermarkets comes from China. In the last 15-20 years they have cornered nearly the entire market by producing garlic at incredibly low prices often below the actual cost of growing it, so that no local producers can compete.  The Chinese agricultural industry has taken a lot of flack over the years for it’s poor health standards, wages and dangerous use of banned pesticides. There is very little regulation on organic standards in China and pretty much anyone can put an organic label on their garlic to turn a profit. Furthermore the Chinese garlic is often bleached to make it look nice and white and more often than not it is irradiated to give it a long shelf life and kill off bacteria. Irradiation distorts the DNA structure so it will no longer be able to sprout. The irradiation also prevents the healthful compounds in garlic from forming so it has practically no discernible health benefits. Ouch! So make sure you don’t buy garlic from China. Look for local and organic garlic, particularly the hard stem varieties. Fresh (or wet) garlic is in season at the moment and is a joy for the palate and your health.

Here is a really quick recipe we use all the time for making stir fries. We use plenty of garlic and add the sauce right at the end of cooking the stir fry so the garlic doesn’t burn and it has the full allicin flavour punch. It also makes a wonderful marinade for tofu, that you can slow roast in the oven.

1 bunch fresh coriander
1 red chilli
3 cloves of fresh garlic
1 inch nob of peeled fresh ginger
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tsp of sesame seed oil
2 tblsp of dark tamari

Put all the ingredients together in a blender and whizz them to a smooth paste, you may need to add a splash of water sometimes. Add it to your stir fry right at the end and cook for a further 5-10 seconds before serving.