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Cinnamon in Traditional Chinese Cuisine

by Yu Weijie

Sauces, Seasonings, and Spices

Summer Volume: 2015 Issue: 22(2) pages: 35 to 36

This spice generally known as Cinnamomum cassia is used most from the bark of its trees. It is very high in essential oils and has a rich sweet and pungent flavor. Cinnamomum loureiri, another species, is known as Saigon cassia, Saigon Cinnamon, and as Baker''s cinnamon. These are much esteemed in China as are the unripe fruits which are dried and sold as cassia buds there, and throughout Southeast Asia. The yield of the harvest is impacted by the tree death rate which occurs if too much bark is removed.

In ancient China, this spice was considered a truly precious food, and was often selected by the emperor and given to foreign representatives. There is a record of Emperor Hanwu (141 - 87 BCE) doing so when the regions foreign representatives came to see him. He and they knew it was not only a spice, but a important medicine appreciated for its sweetness and its fragrant aroma, and for its ability as a powerful deodorizer, a sterilizer, and as a blood activator.

Cinnamon was designated 'the number one medicine in China' first dictionary known as the Shou Wen Jie Zi, the earliest Chinese medicine book, Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing, it said it was suitable for curing all kinds of diseases and that it should be taken before any other medicine in order to activate human Qi and blood. Only after taking it for that purpose should other medicines be channeled to a person's sick parts. This extraordinary effect did result in detoxificationn. Lots of stories are in ancient books regarding mortals becoming fairies or gods after they took some cinnamon.

Cinnamon was one of the most essential and domestic spices in early China. The other two were ginger and prickly ash better known as Sichuan peppercorn. The excavation in Mawangdui, the Number One tomb in Changsha in Hunan, is where the earliest record and find of cinnamon occurred.

Zhu Yizum of the Qing Dynasty put cinnamon in first place when he described edible spices in his book, the Shi Xian Hong Mi. There it was written that is should not only be used as a spice, but also for deodorizing, increasing aroma in foods, making them more delicious, contributing to physical health, clearing human blood,, removing people's cold and wetness, and making their viscera including their intestines and their stomach work well. It was known to aid digestion, increase absorption of nutrients, and increase immunity.

In ancient times, people would intentionally eat some cinnamon before they went to a southern forest. They did so to keep themselves from getting sick. In very hot summer days, they were inclined to drink more cinnamon beverages than usual to ensure their circulation of qi and blood to prevent heatstroke.

Cinnamon bark and ground cinnamon were used in cooking alone and mixed with other spices. In ancient books it was called daiao even though its recipes were different in different places, these differences were, for the most part, seen as regional. In the southwest of China, people tended to add more when mixed with Sichuan peppercorns, which themselves can be called, as already indicated, prickly ash.

In different times and in different places, particularly after the Song and Yuan Dynasties, the population in China did prefer to use imported spices such as nutmeg, pepper, dill, and so forth, nut use of cinnamon did remain high, though somewhat less than before. In almost every recipe in early times, particularly those with meat and fish, there is considerable use of dalio. Most of this bark was ground into powder and then rubbed or twisted into a ball, also made into a pie shape, or used as a paste. They did this often, and after they boiled these grinds.

In ancient times, people also loved to add some cinnamon when making salted foods or fermented ones including when they salted beef or preserved soybeans. Cinnamon wine was known to be fermented soaking cinnamon whole or ground. People in the Song Dynasty were more inclined to produce distiller's yeast mixing cinnamon with other raw materials, then they fermented the wine after doing that. In the Song years, the book called Bei Shan Jiu Jing recorded thirteen different kinds of this yeast; and six of them did use cinnamon.

Cinnamon wine was fairly popular in the Tang Dynasty and there were many poems regarding it. These can be found in a book called Full Collection of Tang Poems, and there is another with a record of forty-eight thousand such poems written by Pens, Shen, and ten others published in 1705. Many mention or allude to cinnamon.

In the Song Dynasty, cinnamon beverages dominated and were usually brewed or boiled. Various mixtures such as those with smoked plums, cloves, or ginger might be added. At that time, a most popular one was cinnamon syrup. This was a slightly fermented beverage that needed at least three days of fermentation, sometimes even longer.

Meanwhile, other items such as barley, honey, and distiller's yeast were also added. Such beverages could be found in the liquor stores of those times and consumers liked to add sugar, honey, or salt to them to make them taste better, and they were more popular if chilled. Later, in the Qing Dynasty, people also distilled cinnamon leaves, they gathered the essential oils from the bark, and they dropped a little of ti in other foods and beverages; the purpose to increase their flavor.

Nowadays, the use of cinnamon is not as prevalent as it once was in ancient China. In most cases, it is only used for braising pork in soy sauce. As people spend lots if time indoors, use air-conditioners, and do not have enough exercise, many say it would be very healthy to consume more cinnamon.

Below are to older cinnamon-related recipes, one for for Braised Pork, the other for Braised Fish. Both are written in an older style.
Braised Pork with Soy Sauce
Cut five hundred grams of streaky pork (known these days as belly pork) into cubes, then blanch these pieces in boiling water. Then remove the pork from the pot and wipe the pieces dry. Put a spoonful of oil in the pot and add the pork and after the oil reaches 180 degrees C, stir it often and remove the ork when some oil had rendered. Pour out the rest and sprinkle the pork with a few minced scallions and a few slices of ginger. Stir for one minute, then add some yellow wine, one spoon of brown sugar, and some of both light and dark soy sauce. After the liquid turns red and gets thick, add one stick of cinnamon, a few dried fennel seeds and a dash of salt. Now turn the heat to high and bring it to the boil. Next reduce the heat to low and simmer this mixture for one hour, stirring once or twice. When the pork is coated with the liquid that has become thick, it is ready to serve on a platter.
Braised Fish with Soy Sauce
Clean the fish, remove the scales, and sprinkle it with salt. Next, put the fish in some yellow wine and marinate it for half an hour Remove and dry the fish, then heat a wok and put a little oil in it or in a pot. Fry the fish on both sides until golden Now remove it from the wok and put half a spoon of oil into the wok and add a few chopped scallions, ginger slices, and peeled garlic slices and stir them. Add yellow wine, light soy sauce, one piece of cinnamon, three fennel, and one spoon of brown sugar. Next add the fish, cover the pot, and reduce the heat, and simmer for ten minutes then turn it carefully and put some of the liquid and simmer until most of the liquid is absorbed. Next, put the fish on a pre-heated platter, sprinkle it with some minced coriander leaves and some red pepper slices, and serve after pouring any remaining liquid on the fish.

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