Everyone is aware of cinnamon; its smell, look, and taste. But do you know where it originates from, what ailments it offers, and which recipe is the best one to include it in? Cinnamon has been around for centuries and its native country has gone through multiple hands of power. But through it all, it still remains as one of the most sought after spices in the world.
History: True cinnamon, Cinnamomum zeylanicum, is native to Ceylon (Sri Lanka). It was first recorded in Chinese writings in 2800 B.C. and is still known as kwai in the Cantonese language, while Italians refer to the spice as canella for its look as “little tubes.”
Ancient Egyptians used cinnamon for embalming and medieval physicians prescribed it for coughs, hoarseness, and sore throats. It was also used to preserve meats and expel the stench of aged meats.
Cinnamon was once valued greatly – approximately 350 grams being equal in value to over five kilograms of silver – measuring about 15 times the value of silver per weight, according to Pliny the Elder’s writings from the first century A.D.
As a sign of great remorse, a year’s supply of cinnamon was ordered to be burnt after Roman Emperor Nero murdered his wife.
The Dutch seized the island of Ceylon from the Portuguese in the 17th century and maintained their newfound monopoly by bribing and threatening the local king of a region in India to destroy its source – the only other known source of cinnamon besides Ceylon. However, the Dutch lost their control during the Revolutionary Wars to the French but the English quickly seized it from them in 1795.
When other countries became aware that they could easily grow cinnamon on their lands – such as Java, Sumatra, Borneo, and Guyana – the monopoly was destroyed.
Currently, cinnamon is now also grown in South America, the West Indies, and other tropical climates.
In cooking: While it is primarily known for its enhancement of various sweets and baked goods, cinnamon is also used in marinades, beverages, meats, poultry, and fish. In Mexico, cinnamon is added to chocolate and most high-end liqueurs and other bitters contain the famous spice.
Benefits: Recent studies have shown that cinnamon enhances the ability of insulin to metabolize glucose, helping control blood sugar levels. Cinnamon is also a carminative, which aids in breaking up intestinal gas, and also has antiseptic and astringent properties.
Storage: Cinnamon powder or quills should be stored in an airtight container and placed in a dark and cool place. Ground cinnamon can quickly become stale and lose its flavor and aroma so it is best to buy small quantities. Using whole quills or grinding cinnamon with a spice or coffee grinder will result in the best flavor.
Fun fact: In the Victorian language of flowers, cinnamon translates to “my fortune is yours.”