About Cinnamon Fact and Fiction
You may already know that cinnamon is good for you, but did you know there is a mythological creature called the Cinnamon Bird? Or so I heard!!
Did you know that it is tree bark? Pictured below with Anise seeds (Aniseed)
Here are some interesting facts and trivia about this extraordinary spice
There was an ancient belief in something called the Cinnamon Bird that supposedly lived in Arabia and used cinnamon to build its nests. Herodotus wrote that these birds flew to an unknown land to collect the cinnamon and took it back with them to Arabia. The Arabians got the cinnamon from the birds by tempting them with large chunks of raw meat. The birds took the heavy pieces of meat back to their nests, which caused the nests to fall and the cinnamon to rain down and be collected by the people.
Pliny the Elder wrote that the Cinnamon Bird did not exist and was a tale invented to raise the price of cinnamon. Probably true!
Pliny also wrote that 350 grams of cinnamon were equal in value to five kilograms of silver. Very True!!
The spice was also valued for its preservative qualities for meat due to the phenols which inhibit the the bacteria responsible for spoilage, with the added bonus being the strong cinnamon aroma masked the stench of aged meats.
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) is a tree belonging to the Lauraceae family. The bark of the tree is what is used as a spice.
True cinnamon, or Ceylon cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon).
Cassia, a related spice, is sometimes sold as cinnamon but it is not "true cinnamon." Cassia is sometimes called "Indonesian cinnamon" or "Chinese cinnamon." In fact, most powdered cinnamon sold in the United States is actually cassia. It is harder to find true Ceylon cinnamon.
Cinnamon gets is scent and flavour from a chemical compound called cinnamaldehyde.
The word cinnamon comes from the Greek kinnamomon.
Cinnamon is mentioned in Chinese writings as far back as 2800 BC.
In the book of Exodus, God instructs Moses to make a holy anointing oil out of cinnamon, cassia, olive oil, myrrh, and hemp. (Exodus 30: 22-33).
In the 17th century, the Dutch seized the world's largest cinnamon supplier, the island of Ceylon, from the Portuguese, demanding outrageous quotas from the poor laboring Chalia caste. When the Dutch learned of a source of cinnamon along the coast of India, they bribed and threatened the local king to destroy it all, thus preserving their monopoly on the prized spice.
In 1795, England seized Ceylon from the French, who had acquired it from their victory over Holland during the Revolutionary Wars. (In the Victorian language of flowers, cinnamon means "my fortune is yours.")
However, by 1833, the downfall of the cinnamon monopoly had begun when other countries found it could be easily grown in such areas as Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Mauritius, Réunion and Guyana. Cinnamon is now also grown in South America, the West Indies, and other tropical climates.
In Ancient Egypt, cinnamon was used in the embalming process.
The Egyptians also used cinnamon medicinally and as a flavouring in food and beverages.
Cinnamon was used on funeral pyres in Ancient Rome. In 65 AD, Nero burned a year's supply of cinnamon at his second wife Poppaea Sabina's funeral in order to show the depth of his grief....
Or was it guilt for murdering her. Stories vary!!
Medieval physicians used cinnamon in medicines to treat coughing, hoarseness and sore throats.
In the Middle Ages, cinnamon was only affordable by the wealthy elite of society. A person's social rank could be determined by the number of spices they could afford.
Cinnamon has many health benefits. It has shown promise in the treatment of diabetes, arthritis, high cholesterol, memory function, and even leukemia and lymphoma.
Two teaspoons of cinnamon has about 12 calories.
Most of what we call cinnamon is actually cassia. In western countries, approximately six times more of the milder tasting cassia is used than “true” cinnamon. Both are basically the same plant, cassia is native to Vietnam and the eastern Himalayas while cinnamon is native to Ceylon (AKA: Sri Lanka) and southern India. The Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 permits spice traders to label cassia as cinnamon.
Like so many of the great spices, they are harvested from evergreen trees but in the case of cinnamon and cassia, the bark is harvested rather than the fruit. A special knife is used to cut strips of bark. The outer, cork-like, layer of the bark is scraped off and the strips are left to dry. As they dry, they curl into the “quills” we know as cinnamon sticks. The finest cinnamon comes from Ceylon, the finest cassia, from Saigon. Most of our cassia is imported from Indonesia. When ground, true cinnamon takes on a tan colour and cassia becomes the familiar reddish brown powder.
© 2008 - ThaiRecipeVideos.com
A True Thai Food Lovers Lament
This article is the entire contents of an email sent to us by one of our Silver Platter members who only joined about a month ago. (email held on file and consent to publish gained) He goes into great detail with an intelligent dialogue of what he has learned, so much so that, it is quite clear that he has been cooking and studying Thai food for quite some time....
Fritz Kraft wrote: Just want to take a moment to say you guys are awesome and give you some positive feedback.
Jules, it's rare than someone with your class and good character (hey, just let me believe it!) has the guts to go live the dream and then be generous enough to share it with those of us stuck out here in the safe, secure and thoroughly BORING, bland and spirit sucking West. $14.97/mo USD for a subscription to this site is the best deal I've seen since $1.10/gallon gasoline!
Khwanjai is a lovely, very funny lady with a wonderful skill. Again, kudos to you both for having the cajones to leave the "comforts" of the UK for a real life doing what you love in Thailand.
My name is Fritz Kraft and I live in San Jose, CA in the "South Bay" (aka Silicon Valley) region of the San Francisco Bay Area.
I've been to Thailand twice and have been an amateur Thai food cook for 5 years. The frustration I've had getting good instruction and inside tips has been indescribable at times; cobbling together recipes from different cookbooks, the web and lots and lots of trial and error. I've been able to master a few dishes but with red curries in particular, I felt I've never been able to nail it.
I've been very hard core when trying to execute these properly but I always felt there was just that missing something. I've made my own pastes in a granite mortar and pestle (brutal and time consuming!), used dried red chilies from Thailand, cultivated my own Kaffir limes/leaves, and chased down coriander root only left on the plant by Hmong/Lao farmers from California's Central Valley who sometimes frequent local farmers markets.
I've even procured flash frozen coconut milk/cream from the Philippines only available at one SEA (South East Asia) market 10 miles from home. With these efforts, I've come close to mastering curries to the level I've experienced in Thailand. While, I finally was able to turn out an authentic green curry with fish balls and banana blossoms and a very good mussaman curry with beef and sweet potatoes after years practice and failures, my red curries have always been overly strong "tasty messes".
After taking out a Silver Membership at Thai Recipe Videos, it turns out, the only things I needed to do were:
-Use ONE THIRD the amount of red curry paste that my recipe books called for
-Put the Kaffir limes leaves in early and let them boil in the mixture, NOT just use finely shredded leaves as a finisher
-Use a flavor enhancer/catalyst and mild thickening/emulsification agent like processed chicken stock powder.
I really have gotten hooked on the "natural", minimally processed coconut milk/cream I buy frozen but of course the problem is oil separation, which my usually less hard core "tasters" always found a little weird. Not only that, the oil slick would hold all of the aromatic flavors and constantly having to remix the curry while serving got tiresome. The chicken powder method allows for partial emulsification to evenly spread texture and flavor throughout the mixture without the deadening effects of homogenized, canned coconut milk. All the while allowing for some shiny, gem like drops of oil to give visual pop to the surface of the curry. Brilliant solution to this vexing dilemma.
-For that naturally, fruity sweetness, using sweet red peppers in the red curry instead of saccharine-sweet white sugar or additional overly rich palm sugar- this was a real revelation.
In my experience, using palm sugar as base is essential, adding more to accentuate the "high notes" in final flavor balancing can be like two steps forward, two steps back while all the while re-balancing with more fish sauce to offset the increasingly overworked curry and slowly destroying the thing.
As the resources I have to draw Im sure are very much like other fellow Thai food cooks in the States, perhaps a little better living in CA, I'm sure we have shared many of the same problems the further down the rabbit hole we've gone with this hobby. I humbly submit the above as ideas to incorporate on the website
Admin wrote: Thank you Fritz for your excellent comments and insightful, well written article. We're confident that our members will find it extremely useful and publish with great pride
© Fritz Kraft and www.ThaiRecipeVideos.com
Satay Sauce - The Truth
Satay sauce, often referred to as peanut sauce is a sauce widely used in Thai cuisine, Malaysian cuisine, Indonesian cuisine, and Chinese cuisine. (under different names) It is also used in some European cuisine.
The key ingredient is peanuts which together with kecap gives it a salty and mildly spicy taste. Many different recipes for making peanut sauces exist, which means that all these satay sauces taste differently.
A home-made recipe too often contains peanut butter (smooth or crunchy), plus milk (coconut milk/low fat milk), kecap (soya sauce), and spices (such as ginger and others to make it spicier). Some peanut sauces also contain fried onions, sesame seed, olive oil or dare I say it again peanut butter.
Initially the sauce was meant as a sauce for satay, a dish comprising sliced or diced meat served on skewers having first been barbecued. Most believe that satay was invented by Chinese immigrants who sold the skewered barbecue meat on the street. It is also possible that it was invented by Malay or Javanese street vendors influenced by the Arabian kebab. The explanation draws on the fact that satay only became popular after the early 19th century, also the time of the arrival of a major influx of Arab immigrants in the region. The satay meats popularly used by Indonesians and Malaysians, mutton and beef, are also traditionally favoured by Arabs however, in Thailand or China the natives prefer pork and chicken.
My personal belief is that they came form China to Thailand around 200 years ago, which agrees with the first part of that story, but the fact that Thailand, like China also prefers pork and chicken satay kinda proves it for me. Indeed the Malays and Javanese street vendors may have been introduced by Arabs but that is not the most likely original influence for Thailand, especially when you consider how much of Thai cuisine was influenced by Chinese immigrants all those centuries ago. Stir frying and spring rolls are most certainly of Chinese origins
In the Netherlands, peanut sauce has become a common Dutch side dish and is usually eaten with meat (barbecue) or chips, (but hey, the Dutch put Mayo on everything else too, I know I've lived in Holland). Peanut sauce is also eaten with a baguette, bread, cucumber or potatoes.
In Singapore, peanut sauce is not only used as dipping sauce for satay. It is also eaten with rice vermicelli known as Satay bee hoon
So there it is the history and the truth about Satay Sauce! Well almost.....
In Thailand, no self respecting, practising chef would ever dream of making it with peanut butter, God perish the thought!
Now I sincerely hope I haven't offended any deeply religious readers by saying that, but I am constantly amazed when I see so called top chefs using it. It does require a little extra effort to make using real peanuts, but the finished sauce is worth every ounce, every second and every bead of sweat of effort when you taste it. Don't take my word for it though invest the effort just once and I know you'll agree with me
One last thing, Traditional Thai Satay Sauce is served with Chicken or Pork Satay and is quite, well textured and in Thai cooking, texture is important however, if you prefer it to be smooth, just blend the peanuts until they turn to paste, the unique flavour comes from toasting them before hand, especially when it combines with the other ingredients
Equally important in Thai cuisine are the complimentary dishes, so chicken or pork satay have "saus satay" and "saus nam jime arjad", it's a triumvirate of complimentary and contrasting flavours, textures and aromas, fantastic when eaten together, try it!
So here's the links to the recipes for you to take a tour of 4 wonderfully complimentary dishes
© 2008 - www.thairecipevideos.com
What are the basic kitchen essentials to cook Thai food well? The following is a list of the basic cooking essentials used in Thai cooking starting with the must haves:
Note from Jules: Only members can see this and I'm still working on it, any suggestions for additions welcome, use the IM.
A Quality Wok
You can't get a thing done without a Wok. It doesn't matter what kind, ie. Round or Flat bottom, steel alloy or non stick. A frying pan won't cut it, they just aren't big enough unless you always cook for one. The best advice is don't go for the cheapest; go for the best you can afford! And bigger is better for stir frying, we always go for at least 14 inches across the top
Pestle and Mortar
A useful tool, but a lot of the work can be done these days in a blender and particularly by using the smaller hand held varieties, the only danger of using blenders is you can go to far and turn what should be a nice textures mix into a purée
Don't struggle with poor quality knives, get a decent chefs knife and a cleaver (for chopping through bones) and a pairing knife, that's all you'll need
Essential for creating pretty vegetables without going to the extremes of learning Thai vegetable carving (which takes years of practice) They come in many shapes and sizes
This is the traditional implement for cooking in a wok, it is used for stirring, turning and serving out, in the videos we use a wooden spatula mainly to keep the noise down whilst recording, off camera, a shovel is all Khwanjai uses; Her weapon of choice! Available in Asian stores
You are going to need at least two seives, one for fishing stuff out of the wok, preferably long handled and flat (often called a wire skimmer) and a larger one for leaving stuff to drain
Most of the vegetable steamers on the market today are barely large enough for Thai cooking, however with a largish one you should be able to manage. Far better would be the Thai steamers available from Asian markets they are huge with high domed tops and really quite inexpensive, generally made from cheap alloys. Bamboo steamers although authentic are difficult to keep clean
These are readily available from major outlets, cheap and reliable, a simple, "set it and forget it" method that works like magic and will give years of service. We also show you how you can achieve the same results using a vegetable steamer, ideal for smaller quantities see Perfect Jasmine Rice
For placing, removing and turning food in the wok, long handled tongs are better for safety
Cooking oil, a lot of rot is talked about cooking oils in Thai food, here in Thailand 99% of chefs use vegetable or sunflower oil as does Khwanjai, unless otherwise stated that's what we use, that's what you'll need and lots of it. By all means use another oil if you prefer but, in my opinion, Thai flavours are so strong you wouldn't notice any difference
Used in practically every Thai recipe so it's an absolute must have, there are different makes and they vary from country to country as some places have regulations on fish imports, if that is the case in your country, it will be a weaker version of what we get here in Thailand
Thai Seasoning Sauce
This tastes a bit like a weaker version of Worcestershire sauce, you're probably going to have to go to an Asian store to get it although some main line supermarkets stock it now but it's usually much cheaper to get it from an Asian store
Same as above, in terms of where to get it, as a substitute you can use Bovril surpriingly! Not quite as good but a passable substitute. In all three cases, don't waste your time with the small bottles, get the big ones, you'll use it more than you might think
We use chicken stock powder in many recipes, the traditional ingredient is MSG, but chicken stock powder is a great healthy alternative, try to get powder if you can it's easier to stir in than the cubes, but cubes are perfectly fine if no powder is available, we give alternative measurements for both types
Grab a pack of dried chillies, they keep practically forever, they are used for so many things in Thai cooking, should be radily available from any major supermarket
Fresh Thai Chillies
Okay, you may not be able to get Thai chillies but birds eye chillies are so close it won't matter, they're fiery hot! Grab some red and green, most supermarkets carry these
Black Pepper Corns
Fresh Green Pepper Corns were Thailands' most spicy ingredient until chillies were introduced by Europeans centuries ago. They grow on vines wrapped around palms and are best when picked fresh and green, they turn black as they dry and become the black pepper corns we know and love so well
There are numerous Thai curry pastes available on the market, the best place to buy is from an Asian store, look for the variety in the plastic tubs, they contain the paste in a plastic bag inside the tub, pictured right. (Mae Ploy Brand) It is not difficult to make your own, they just take time and effort
Thai (or sweet) Basil and Holy Basil are used frequently, seek out your local Asian stores to find a good supplier, be aware that they are often mislabelled so visit our Thai food Wiki to see how to tell the difference.
Galangal and Ginger, also listed in the wiki, there are old and young ones and they are used differently see this ThaiFood-TV video blog for more info
Lemongrass is used mostly in soups and is fairly easy to come by in most supermarkets, if not, the good old Asian store will come to the rescue
Coriander Root (or cilantro) roots, are used quite a lot, and in most western countries they are discarded before they ever reach the store, fear not as finely chopping the lower part of the stems in most cases is near as makes no difference
Kaffir Lime leaves, usually available frozen from Asian stores. If you can't get hold of any you can use very finely chopped lime peel, not quite the same but very close