Chefs and home cooks the world over appreciate the versatility and unique flavour of cinnamon. The fine powder is found in and underneath the bark of trees that stem from the cinnamon genus, and has been harvested for thousands of years – there’s even mention of it in the Bible, when Moses uses cinnamon while making holy oil. During harvesting, the bark needs to be processed quickly while it is fresh, then left to dry completely in the sun. This produces the tight curls of bark that we recognise as cinnamon sticks.
For many years, cinnamon was very expensive and therefore considered good enough to be used for gifts to royalty and sometimes even as an offering to the gods. Thankfully we can now enjoy this deliciously warming spice whenever we like, and in both sweet and savoury dishes.
One cuisine that brilliantly showcases the use of cinnamon in savoury dishes is Indian cuisine. Most notably, cinnamon is a key ingredient of Garam Masala, the spice blend that is used every day throughout the country as a base for numerous curries.
It can also be used on its own however, in dishes such as cinnamon chicken curry. This incredibly popular dish highlights the sweetness of the spice, providing the perfect flavouring to the chicken, which is marinated overnight in yoghurt and spices to create a wonderfully succulent texture and allow the spices to work their way into the meat. The sauce itself also contains cinnamon, along with ginger, garlic, onion, red chillies, and ground almonds. Milk and cream are added at the end to make the finished dish rich and decadent.
The Keralan coconut and cinnamon curry is another dish that lends itself to the use of this spice. Cinnamon is combined with coconut flesh along with other spices such as fennel seeds, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and turmeric; but it is the coconut and cinnamon that are the stars of the show here, their flavours marrying together to create a truly unique dish.
Vegetarians don’t miss out on enjoying cinnamon in their curries – one example where the spice is used to surprising success is in a cinnamon-infused chickpea curry. Nutritious, protein-packed chickpeas are flavoured with cinnamon, chillies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, onion and tomatoes for a dish that’s hearty, filling and packed with flavour – basically, it’s anything but boring!
Cinnamon is not only used in curry dishes, but in the accompaniments that are served alongside them, too. Saffron cinnamon rice makes for a refreshingly bright alternative to plain white Basmati rice, with the saffron adding a golden hue to the dish. As well as the cinnamon and saffron, butter and cardamom pods are also added to the rice. This creates an excitingly aromatic side dish that goes well with almost any curry.
If you’ve yet to sample the many ways that cinnamon can be used in Indian cuisine, why not pay a visit to one of London’s top fine-dining Indian restaurants? Their chefs are experts in blending spices to create a range of delicious and authentic dishes that are guaranteed to excite your taste buds.