Cinnamon: the bark of the covenant

A versatile spice mentioned in the Torah could be of use in a future flu pandemic.

By Ruth Joseph, May 7, 2009
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As you taste a slice of warm apple strudel laden with lemony, cinnamon juices, sink your teeth into a cinnamon bagel, or dip your fork into a fragrant curry with pieces of cinnamon bark simmered in the spicy sauce, you are transported to a world of spice. Yet cinnamon is now considered not only a wonderful cooking ingredient but a new and intriguing healer with an ability to combat viruses while immunising against various infections.

This discovery was made by an Israeli scientist in a passage from the Torah. Professor Michael Ovadia of Tel Aviv University recalled a Torah reading that described the High Priests preparing a holy oil to anoint their bodies before they sacrificed an animal.

This particular passage in Exodus 30:23 deals with instructions from God to Moses telling him, “You must take the finest fragrances, 500 shekels of distilled myrrh, 2 half portions of each consisting of fragrant cinnamon and 250 shekels of fragrant cane.”

In an interview with Israel 21C, Ovadia explained, “I had a hunch that this oil that was prepared with cinnamon and other spices, played a role in preventing the spread of infectious agents to people.’

Following this research, the University’s department of Biology found that the sendai virus, avian flu H9, herpes simplex and chickens infected with Newcastle disease all responded to the administration of a type of cinnamon extract called cinnamon aldehyde and coumarin — by-products of the spice.

The New Scientist has reported that cinnamon may also help in the fight against diabetes — adding a cinnamon stick to a cup of tea will reduce blood sugar.

Cinnamon is harvested from the bark of the cinnamon tree and originated in China. Nevertheless it found its way to Israel as early as 2000BCE. Originally, it was valued more for its fragrance and in this context is mentioned in the Song of Solomon 4:14, referring to the beauty of his beloved whose garments were scented with cinnamon.

Certainly it was considered valuable and even as late as 14th century, myths were perpetuated that the spice found in Arabia was used by vast cinnamon birds to make their nests and it took all the Arabs’ ingenuity to harvest the crop, thus increasing its worth.

Its importance to us as a delicious cooking ingredient can never be underestimated. Remember: a little goes a long way. A scant amount mixed with brown sugar, sprinkled on slices of eggy bread, doughnuts or even hot buttered toast turns a simple food into a gourmet experience.

Try adding a pinch of cinnamon to a crème brulee mixture along with grated orange zest for extra flavour. Cinnamon adores coffee and chocolate flavours and will add extra dimensions to your baking.

Think of a plum cobbler topped with cinnamon scone dough and baked until golden brown. Or pecan and apricot muffins spiced with cinnamon.

Cinnamon and Plum Streusel Cake

Serves 8-10

For the cake
● 2 extra large plums or 2 small economy peaches
● 3 medium free-range eggs
● 175g (6oz) softened margarine or butter
● 175g (6oz) soft brown sugar plus 1 packet vanilla sugar
● 175g (6oz) self-raising flour
● 1 scant teasp baking powder
● Grated rind of 1 orange
● 1 teaspoon milk or soya milk

For the streusel
● 100g (3 ½ oz) self raising flour
● 25g (1 oz) porridge oats
● 2 teasp ground cinnamon
● 60g (2 oz) Muscovado sugar or a lighter one if you prefer
● 30ml, 1 fl oz light olive oil

● Place half the cut fruit on the lined base of a 20 cm line, lined tin and the other half divided up and split between two lined 450g loaf-tins washed and sliced and arranged decoratively on the base
● From the cake ingredients, sieve flour and baking powder together.
● Now add all other cake ingredients and whisk until well combined.
● If mixture seems really stiff, add 1 tablespoon milk or soya milk.
● Smooth cake mixture over fruit.
● Mix streusel ingredients together and sprinkle over the fruit/ sponge mixture – some streusel will drop into the sponge mixture as it cooks, adding to the gorgeous texture.
● Bake for approx 40mins to 1 hour or until cooked and firm on top.

Last updated: 12:31pm, May 7 2009