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Cassia Bark: A Snickerdoodle for your Gin Cocktails

When you bite into that Snickerdoodle from the local bakery or sprinkle a little cinnamon on your venti mocha from the coffee shop, did it ever take you to another plane? Did you realize that some days, the days you did sprinkle on that extra touch of cinnamon that you were feeling a little bit more creative or artistic? Cinnamon, or what we Americans know as cinnamon, in reality it is cassia bark, has long been thought to have magical powers. And like the other botanicals used to flavor gin, it has aromatherapy uses and medicinal properties. Cassia has a long history and an interesting story.

The spice that is sold in the United States and Canada is actually derived from the bark of the cassia tree. It is a stronger, hardier plant than the Ceylon cinnamon, which is true cinnamon. The flavor of the cassia is stronger, and branches and entire trees, small ones, are harvested for the bark. Ceylon cinnamon is harvested for small shoots, making it much more delicate and expensive. Cassia has a rougher texture and looks more like bark than true cinnamon. True cinnamon peels off in layers; cassia is one thick piece of bark.

Cassia is an Asian spice mentioned in the Bible and used in the mummification process in Egypt. Moses was ordered to use cinnamon along with other botanicals to anoint the Ark of the Covenant and it is mentioned again in the book of Psalms. Cassia is used mostly in cooking, it is aromatic, warm, sweet but compared to true cinnamon it is bitter and astringent. The Greeks and Romans used cassia to flavor wine and it is thought that the Greeks also left cassia at temples along with incense and myrrh as gifts for the temple. Doctors in ancient times thought cassia could cure snakebites, freckles, colds and kidney ailments.

Cassia is currently being tested to determine whether it has a real effect on blood pressure. It is possible that it may ease hypertension. It is also been tested for use by diabetics to reduce blood lipid levels. In Germany there were concerns that the coumarin levels were too high. Coumarin is a factor in cassia from which several anticoagulants are derived, that inhibits hepatic synthesis of vitamin K-dependent coagulation factors. Other countries are not as concerned and have higher limits for coumarin intake.

Those who believe in its magical powers use cassia oil for meditation; those powers are purported to extend to defense, energy, power, protection, success, health and healing, lust and love, money and riches, creative work, astral projection and purification. On a slightly less esoteric level, its aromatherapy uses include use of the oil to get rid of lice and scabies, ease wasp stings, aid in poor circulation, stimulate contractions in childbirth, cure a number of gastric and digestive conditions, rheumatism, coughs, colds and viral infections and warts. Additionally it is used for strengthening, as a restorative and as an aphrodisiac.

These curative powers are a common thread running through the botanicals used in making gin. Cassia is warm, as is juniper, and the oil is an astringent. Its slightly bitter aspect blends well with the sweetness of angelica root and licorice and balances well with the citrus found in the sweet orange. Most of these botanicals are thought to help in digestion, aid in eliminating insomnia, are used to fight infection or disease and they all boast of being aphrodisiacs. With the new breed of superior gins like G’vine, some with as many as 19 infused and distilled herbal flavors, these botanicals are the secret ingredients that make the magic something to believe in.

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