If ever there was a spice more stereotyped by “one trick pony” status, cinnamon would take top honors. We all know it as the backbone of Sunday morning French toast, the bit of lovin’ that makes snickerdoodles so delightful, or even that inedible stick floating in your warm apple cider.
Cinnamon is so much more than all that! It’s used the world over as an ingredient in cleaners and mouthwash and even makes a great alternative to moth balls in keeping critters out of your wardrobe. Cinnamon is also highly acclaimed as an addition to savory foods in many types of cuisine all across Asia and North Africa. Check out these three unexpected places to incorporate cinnamon that will give your jar a life beyond coffee cake.
CHINESE FIVE SPICE
Chinese Five Spice powder is typically – as the name would imply – made up of five different spices: fennel, peppercorns, cloves, anise, and cinnamon. In this equation, the cinnamon lends a hearty base of flavor that complements many of the other ingredients found in Chinese cuisine (soy, black bean paste, sesame, etc). If you want to add an east Asian flavor boost to your cooking, try incorporating a combination of these spices – and don’t hold back on the cinnamon.
When I was growing up, my grandparents had a beautiful garden that they’d always pickle the vegetables from. While my grandma generally liked the store bought “pickling mix” from her supermarket’s spice aisle, she’d always add a stick of cinnamon to her jar of cucumber pickles. Not quite sweet, not quite savory, the “spiced” undertones it provided were a delicious and unexpectedly great match for a pulled pork or crispy chicken sandwich.
MIDDLE EASTERN INFLUENCE
Lots of North African and Middle Eastern cuisines use a broad variety of flavors in their cooking. You’ll often find dried fruits added to a pot of stewed meats or – in sticking with our theme – spices like cinnamon used to “wake up” a dish and give it a partly sweet, partly savory depth of flavor. To steer your dishes in a more Middle Eastern direction, try starting with a base of supermarket curry powder and adding in a bit of cinnamon and cumin. Use this mixture where you would any other to season meats, burgers, broths, dips, and more.
Patrick W. Decker’s life revolves around food. Always has, probably always will. As a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America and past member of the culinary teams for Food Network stars Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Bobby Deen and Paula Deen, he now works as a food stylist and producer in NYC by day and a food writer and recipe developer at his home in New York’s Hudson Valley by night. You can see what he’s up to by following his latest tweets on Twitter at @patrickwdecker, following him on Instagram (@patrickwdecker) or visiting his website at patrickwdecker.com.