For cinnamon, its time has come

When I think back on 2010, I will remember it, in part, as the year when a lot of people, myself included, truly understood that chocolate and salt are sensational companions. Salted chocolates have been on the radar for a while now, but they seemed to break through into the mainstream only recently. As someone who has never had much of a thing for chocolate, I have been astonished by how much I enjoy it when it is salted.

When it comes to increased attention, you could say the same thing for cinnamon. Its time has come.

Always a popular spice, cinnamon is enjoying the limelight these days as being excellent for our health. A mere half-teaspoon of cinnamon each day is credited with everything from lowering LDL cholesterol and boosting memory and alertness to relieving arthritis pain and regulating blood sugar. Studies have shown that cinnamon inhibits the growth of many bacteria, including E. coli, and slows the proliferation of cancer cells. If you are someone who believes in so-called "super foods," cinnamon should definitely be on your list.

As an ingredient in cooking, cinnamon is nearly as versatile as pepper in the way it can insinuate itself into a broad array of dishes without eclipsing other elements. It is as delicious with chicken, lamb, beef, wild boar and venison as it is in bread, coffee cake, ice cream, apple pie and myriad other desserts. When combined with just three other ingredients, bread, butter and sugar, it becomes one of the finest comfort foods of all time, cinnamon toast.

Cinnamon is made from the inner skin, or bark, of trees native to Southeast Asia, Sri Lanka and China. Although intuitively it seems whole cinnamon sticks must contain great flavor than ground cinnamon, the opposite is true. Ground cinnamon has more flavor because the older bark used to make it contains more of cinnamon's essential oils. Stick cinnamon is made from younger upper branches.

Of the two main varieties of cinnamon, Korintje is what most of us know, though supermarkets tend to offer inferior B and C grades rather than the highly prized A grade. Cassia cinnamon, from Southeast Asia and China, is increasingly familiar. True cinnamon, which is to say Ceylon cinnamon, is less sweet with more complex flavors, including citrus notes, than either Cassia or Korintje.

There are now three good sources for spices in Santa Rosa, in addition to those markets, like Pacific and Oliver's, that carry quality products. Several months ago, Savory Spice Shop opened at the corner of D and Fifth streets in downtown Santa Rosa. Penzey's, which has a huge mail-order customer base, opened a market in Montgomery Village, near the Crepevine Restaurant.

A third source is Cook's Spices, Kim Cook's sweet little spice business. You'll find her at the Santa Rosa Farmers Market.

One of the benefits of having local sources devoted to spices is the knowledge of the business owner. If you aren't sure exactly what you want, just ask.

Some good things to do with cinnamon

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