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Cinnamon: Sweet Sensation

By on April 21, 2014

In the last few weeks on our journey to an extraordinary cup of chai, Chai Pilgrimage has talked about the benefits of Ginger and Cardamom.  This week the star is Cinnamon.


Cinnamomum zeylanicum / Cinnamomum cassia • Sanskrit: Tvak • Hindi: Dalchini

Cinnamon is called tvak in Sanskrit, which literally means “skin,” because it is obtained by peeling off the sweet inner bark, or skin, of the tree. Like many other chai spices, cinnamon’s warming nature aids digestion and is traditionally used for a variety of stomach and intestinal imbalances such as indigestion, nausea, gas, vomiting and diarrhea. As a home remedy, it can be made into a tea or added to food to improve circulation and relieve a general feeling of coldness. It can also alleviate menstrual pain, abdominal cramping and muscle spasms.

Cinnamon warms the internal body and is used medicinally in Ayurveda as a general tonic for the organs and to increase vitality. It warms the kidneys, strengthens the adrenals and the heart, and purifies the blood. Acting as an expectorant on the lungs, it is useful for coughs, congestion and asthma. Cinnamon is considered an aphrodisiac and is used to alleviate male sexual debility.

There is a significant difference between what is called “true cinnamon” or “Ceylon cinnamon” and its relative cassia bark, commonly referred to as cinnamon in North America. True cinnamon has a sweet, subtle flavor, while cassia’s taste is strong, pungent and even peppery. One can identify Ceylon cinnamon by its soft, tan, multi-layered stick that is easy to break up by hand. Cassia, on the other hand, is very hard and reddish brown in color and consists of a single thick quill of bark.

The flavor of cassia cinnamon can be overpowering and can easily dominate a masala chai if too much is used. Using just a little as an accent, however, adds a wonderful taste. We prefer the delicate taste of Ceylon cinnamon in our masala chai. When adding cinnamon to chai, it is better to use the stick than the powder. The stick will give your chai a richer taste and prevent it from becoming “muddy,” which happens when fine cinnamon powder does not thoroughly strain out.


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About Patrick Shaw

Patrick Shaw has devoted his life to making the healing wisdom of the East accessible to Western culture. As well as being a seasoned India traveler and chai wallah, Patrick is a practitioner of Ayurveda, having studied under the tutelage of Dr. Vasant Lad, founder of the Ayurvedic Institute in New Mexico. He is the author, with his illustrator wife Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw, of Chai Pilgrimage.

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