Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum, synonym C. zeylanicum) is a small evergreen tree 10–15 metres (32.8–49.2 feet) tall, belonging to the family Lauraceae, and is native to India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Nepal. The bark is widely used as a spice due to its distinct odour.
The leaves are ovate-oblong in shape, 7–18 cm (2.75–7.1 inches) long. The flowers, which are arranged in panicles, have a greenish colour, and have a distinct odour. The fruit is a purple one-centimetre berry containing a single seed.
Its flavour is due to an aromatic essential oil that makes up 0.5% to 1% of its composition. This oil is prepared by roughly pounding the bark, macerating it in seawater, and then quickly distilling the whole. It is of a golden-yellow colour, with the characteristic odour of cinnamon and a very hot aromatic taste. The pungent taste and scent come from cinnamic aldehyde or cinnamaldehyde and, by the absorption of oxygen as it ages, it darkens in colour and develops resinous compounds. Chemical components of the essential oil include ethyl cinnamate, eugenol, cinnamaldehyde, beta-caryophyllene, linalool, and methyl chavicol.
The name cinnamon comes from Greek kinnámōmon, itself ultimately from Phoenician. The botanical name for the spice—Cinnamomum zeylanicum—is derived from Sri Lanka's former (colonial) name, Ceylon.
In Sanskrit cinnamon is known as tvak or dārusitā. In Hindi cinnamon is called Dalchini, and in Gujarati it is called Taj. In Malayalam cinnamon is called "Karuva" or "Elavarngam". The dried skin (Karuvappatta / Elavarngappatta) of karuva is an important part of spicy curries.
Cinnamon has been known from remote antiquity, and it was so highly prized among ancient nations that it was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and other great potentates. Cinnamon is native to India. It was imported to Egypt from China as early as 2000 BC. It is mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 30:23, where Moses is commanded to use both sweet cinnamon (Hebrew קִנָּמוֹן, qinnāmôn) and cassia; in Proverbs 7:17–18, where the lover's bed is perfumed with myrrh, aloe and cinnamon; and in Song of Solomon 4:14, a song describing the beauty of his beloved, cinnamon scents her garments like the smell of Lebanon. It is also alluded to by Herodotus and other classical writers. It was commonly used on funeral pyres in Rome, and the Emperor Nero is said to have burned a year's supply of cinnamon at the funeral for his wife Poppaea Sabina in 65 AD.
Up to the Middle Ages, the source of cinnamon was a mystery to the Western world. It is possible that the Arabs established an early monopoly on trading in cinnamon, and kept its origin a secret for hundreds of years. In Herodotus and other authors, Arabia was the source of cinnamon: giant Cinnamon birds collected the cinnamon sticks from an unknown land where the cinnamon trees grew, and used them to construct their nests; the Arabs employed a trick to obtain the sticks. This story was current as late as 1310 in Byzantium. The first mention of the spice growing in Sri Lanka was in Zakariya al-Qazwini's Athar al-bilad wa-akhbar al-‘ibad ("Monument of Places and History of God's Bondsmen") in about 1270. This was followed shortly thereafter by John of Montecorvino, in a letter of about 1292.
Indonesian rafts transported cinnamon (known in Indonesia as kayu manis- literally "sweet wood") on a "cinnamon route" directly from the Moluccas to East Africa, where local traders then carried it north to the Roman market. See also Rhapta.
Arab traders brought the spice via overland trade routes to Alexandria in Egypt, where it was bought by Venetian traders from Italy who held a monopoly on the spice trade in Europe. The disruption of this trade by the rise of other Mediterranean powers, such as the Mamluk Sultans and the Ottoman Empire, was one of many factors that led Europeans to search more widely for other routes to Asia.
Portuguese traders finally discovered Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the beginning of the sixteenth century and restructured the traditional production of cinnamon by the Salagama caste. The Portuguese established a fort on the island in 1518 and protected their own monopoly for over a hundred years.
Dutch traders finally dislodged the Portuguese by allying with the inland Kingdom of Kandy. They established a trading post in 1638, took control of the factories by 1640, and expelled all remaining Portuguese by 1658. "The shores of the island are full of it", a Dutch captain reported, "and it is the best in all the Orient: when one is downwind of the island, one can still smell cinnamon eight leagues out to sea." (Braudel 1984, p. 215)
The Dutch East India Company continued to overhaul the methods of harvesting in the wild, and eventually began to cultivate its own trees.
The British took control of the island from the Dutch in 1796. However, the importance of the monopoly of Ceylon was already declining, as cultivation of the cinnamon tree spread to other areas, the more common cassia bark became more acceptable to consumers, and coffee, tea, sugar, and chocolate began to outstrip the popularity of traditional spices.
Cinnamon is harvested by growing the tree for two years and then coppicing it. The next year, about a dozen shoots will form from the roots. These shoots are then stripped of their bark, which is left to dry. Only the thin (0.5 mm) inner bark is used; the outer woody portion is removed, leaving metre-long cinnamon strips that curl into rolls ("quills") on drying; each dried quill comprises strips from numerous shoots packed together. These quills are then cut into 5–10 cm lengths for sale.
Cinnamon has been cultivated from time immemorial in Sri Lanka, and the tree is also grown commercially at Tellicherry in southern India, Bangladesh, Java, Sumatra, the West Indies, Brazil, Vietnam, Madagascar, Zanzibar, and Egypt. Sri Lanka cinnamon has a very thin, smooth bark with a light-yellowish brown color and a highly fragrant aroma.
According to the International Herald Tribune, in 2006 Sri Lanka produced 90% of the world's cinnamon, followed by China, India, and Vietnam. According to the FAO, Indonesia produces 40% of the world's Cassia genus of cinnamon.
There are several different cultivars of Cinnamomum zeylanicum
The name cinnamon is correctly used to refer to Ceylon cinnamon, also known as "true cinnamon" (from the botanical name C. zeylanicum). However, the related species, Cassia (Cinnamomum aromaticum), Saigon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureiroi), and Cinnamomum burmannii are sometimes sold labeled as cinnamon, sometimes distinguished from true cinnamon as "Chinese cinnamon", "Vietnamese cinnamon", or "Indonesian cinnamon." Ceylon cinnamon, using only the thin inner bark, has a finer, less dense, and more crumbly texture, and is considered to be less strong than cassia. Cassia has a much stronger (somewhat harsher) flavour than cinnamon, is generally a medium to light reddish brown, hard and woody in texture, and thicker (2–3 mm thick), as all of the layers of bark are used. In many supermarkets in the United States, products labelled as cinnamon may often be cassia. Due to the presence of a moderately toxic component called coumarin, European health agencies have recently warned against consuming high amounts of cassia. This is contained in much lower dosages in Cinnamomum burmannii due to its low essential oil content. Coumarin is known to cause liver and kidney damage in high concentrations. True Ceylon cinnamon has negligible amounts of coumarin.
The two barks, when whole, are easily distinguished, and their microscopic characteristics are also quite distinct. Cinnamon sticks (or quills) have many thin layers and can easily be made into powder using a coffee or spice grinder, whereas cassia sticks are much harder. Indonesian cassia (Cinnamomum burmannii) is often sold in neat quills made up of one thick layer, capable of damaging a spice or coffee grinder. Saigon cassia (Cinnamomum loureiroi) and Chinese cassia (Cinnamomum aromaticum) are always sold as broken pieces of thick bark, as the bark is not supple enough to be rolled into quills. It is a bit harder to tell powdered cinnamon from powdered cassia. When powdered bark is treated with tincture of iodine (a test for starch), little effect is visible in the case of pure cinnamon of good quality, but when cassia is present, a deep-blue tint is produced, the intensity of the coloration depending on the proportion of cassia.
In medicine it acts like other volatile oils and once had a reputation as a cure for colds. It has also been used to treat diarrhoea and other problems of the digestive system. Cinnamon is high in antioxidant activity. The essential oil of cinnamon also has antimicrobial properties, which can aid in the preservation of certain foods.
Cinnamon has been reported to have remarkable pharmacological effects in the treatment of type II diabetes and insulin resistance. However, the plant material used in the study was mostly from cassia and only few of them are truly from Cinnamomum zeylanicum (see cassia's medicinal uses for more information about its health benefits). Recent advancement in phytochemistry has shown that it is a cinnamtannin B1 isolated from C. zeylanicum which is of theraputic effect on type II diabetes. with the exception for the postmenopausal patients studied on C. cassia. Cinnamon has traditionally been used to treat toothache and fight bad breath and its regular use is believed to stave off common cold and aid digestion.
Cinnamon is used in the system of Thelemic Magick for Solar invocations, according to the correspondences listed in Aleister Crowley's work Liber 777. In Hoodoo, it is a multipurpose ingredient used for purification, luck, love, and money.
Cinnamon has been proposed for use as an insect repellent, although it remains untested. Cinnamon leaf oil has been found to be very effective in killing mosquito larvae. The compounds cinnamaldehyde, cinnamyl acetate, eugenol and anethole, that are contained in cinnamon leaf oil, were found to have the highest effectiveness against mosquito larvae.
It is reported that regularly drinking of Cinnamomum zeylanicum tea made from the bark could be beneficial to oxidative stress related illness in humans, as the plant part contains significant antioxidant potential.
An urban legend holds that it is impossible to eat a tablespoon of powdered cinnamon without choking or vomiting. This has prompted the circulation of a large number of daredevil videos on the internet. Cinnamon is a strong desiccant, which resists swallowing, instead causing an irritating dry layer to form on the tongue, pharynx, and esophagus. The excess cinnamon remains in fine powder form and is usually inhaled into the lungs, where it causes irritation and choking.