(Cinnamomum verum – Family Lauraceae)
Cinnamon comes from the dried bark of a tree indigenous to Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), and has been an important spice since antiquity. Together with ginger and black peppercorns, cinnamon was a major item in the spice trade with the Orient. There has always been confusion between cinnamon and cassia bark, and even the French do not distinguish between the two calling both “cannelle”. The British Pharmacopoei, however, requires cinnamon to be the product of C. verum. Others view it as coming from at least fifty different species of evergreen shrubs native to Asia and Australia. The source of the confusion stems from ancient times when the Greeks and Romans had both cinnamon and cassia; and Arab traders, who supplied them, protected their business interests by deliberately shrouding their sources. Even such writers as Herodotus (5th century BCE) and Theophrastus (4th century BCE) wrote fantastic tales to thwart any who would try to find the source of the spice. During the 12th to 14th centuries, Arab writers alluded to true cinnamon coming from Ceylon and recognized it as being superior. Columbus thought he had found it in Cuba, but that was likely the wild cinnamon from the genus Canella. It was the Portuguese who eventually found cinnamon in its wild state in Ceylon in 1505, and proceeded to occupy the island. When the Dutch took over in 1636, they inherited the cinnamon monopoly and began its cultivation. After the British conquest in 1796, the East India Company acquired the monopoly and kept it until 1833, when trade in cinnamon was finally freed. The second most important source of true cinnamon is the Seychelles Islands, where it was introduced in the late 18th century by the French. In 1815, this source passed into British hands. Some true cinnamon is also produced in the Malagasy Republic.
Cultivators of cinnamon manage their rootstocks in such as way as to encourage the straight shoots to bush. When these growing stems are about as high as a human being, they are harvested and taken away in bundles for peeling and processing. Peeling involves stripping off the outer bark and rubbing the inner bark with a heavy brass rod to loosen it. Incisions are then made around and down each side and pulled away in half sections. The curled strips are scraped clean and formed into compound ‘quills’ about forty inches long; but for retail sale, they are cut into shorter lengths. Each quill consists of many strips rolled together into a cylindrical shape, trimmed, and dried. Cinnamon is also commonly sold in powder form, although often mixed with cassia bark.
The aroma and flavour of cinnamon is alwayscaused by cinnamaldehyde and eugenol, along with other minor compounds. The chemical composition, however, varies considerably in cinnamon products. This, and other factors, affect the quality. Some of these factors include the quality of the soil on which the shoots are grown, the cultivar used, the techniques for processing, and so on. Even the quills themselves are subjected to a complicated system of grading. The three main groups are Fine, Mexican, and Hamburg. Cinnamon bark oil is the source of the cinnamon essence used for culinary purposes; but the cinnamon leaf oil is a different product, whose very high eugenol content gives it a clove-like aroma. Cinnamon has long been known as a disinfectant, stimulant, and anti-flatulent; but the only medicinal cinnamon is that called the true or Ceylon cinnamon. Warm cinnamon tea sipped slowly can be helpful in the event of nausea; and, if taken at bedtime, it can help promote sleep.