Cinnamon scientifically known as Cinnamomum zeylanicum is native to Sri Lanka and dates back in Chinese writings to 2800 B.C and is still known as kwai in the Chinese. Its botanical name derives from the Hebraic and Arabic term amomon, meaning fragrant spice plant. Cinnamon was used for embalming process in ancient Egyptians. From their word for cannon, Italians called it canella, meaning “little tube,” which aptly describes cinnamon sticks.
Pliny the Elder in the first century A.D. wrote that 350 gms of cinnamon being equal in value to over 5 kgs of silver and about fifteen times the value of silver per weight. Cinnamon was used in medicines to treat coughing, hoarseness and sore throats by medieval physicians. In 17th century, the Dutch had 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.
Cinnamon is also grown in South America, the West Indies, and other tropical climates. It is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several trees from the Cinnamomum genus which could be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Cinnamon trees are native to South East Asia, and its origin was mysterious in Europe until the sixteenth century.
The name cinnamon came from the Hebrew and Phoenician through the Greek name kinnamomon. In India its called by various names as per language like Pattai in Tamil, Dalchini chekka in Telugu, Chakke in Kannada, Dalchini in Hindi and karuva in Malayalam. In Persian its called as darchin literally means picked from tree. In Indonesia especially in Java and Sumatra where it is cultivated is called kayu manis means sweet wood and sometimes called as cassia vera, the real cassia and in Sri Lanka it is known as kurundu.
Cinnamon had been highly prized among ancient nations and was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and even for god, a fine inscription records the gift of cinnamon and cassia to the temple of Apollo at Miletus. Though its source was kept mysterious in the Mediterranean world for centuries by the middlemen who handled the spice trade, to protect their monopoly as suppliers, cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka. It was imported to Egypt as early as 2000 BC. 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. Portuguese traders finally landed in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the beginning of the sixteenth century and restructured the traditional production and management of cinnamon by the Sinhalese, who later held the monopoly for cinnamon in Ceylon.
Lord Brown of East India Company established Anjarakkandy Cinnamon Estate in 1767 near Anjarakkandy in Cannanore (now Kannur) district of Kerala, and this estate became Asia’s largest cinnamon estate. Cinnamon is harvested by growing the tree for two years then coppicing it. The next year, about a dozen shoots will form from the roots. The branches harvested this way are processed by scraping off the outer bark, then beating the branch evenly with a hammer to loosen the inner bark. The inner bark is then prised out in long rolls. Only the thin (0.5 mm (0.020 in)) inner bark is used; the outer, woody portion is discarded, leaving metre-long cinnamon strips that curl into rolls (“quills”) on drying. Once dry, the bark is cut into 5–10 cm (2.0–3.9 in) lengths for sale.
Cinnamon has been cultivated since ages in Sri Lanka and tree is also grown commercially at Kerala in southern India, Bangladesh, Java, Sumatra, West Indies, Brazil, Vietnam, Madagascar, Zanzibar and Egypt. The cinnamon cultivated in Sri Lanka has a very thin, smooth bark with a light-yellowish brown color and a highly fragrant aroma. Recent years in Sri Lanka, mechanical devices have been developed to ensure premium quality and worker safety and health, following considerable research by the Universities in that country led by the University of Ruhuna.
There are a number of species sold as cinnamon that includes:
Cinnamomum verum is also known as true cinnamom or Sri Lanka cinnamom or Ceylon cinnamon.
Cinnamomum burmannii also called as korintje or Indonesian cinnamom.
Cinnamomum loureiroi also known as Saigon cinnamon or Vietnamese cinnamon and lastly the,
Cinnamomum aromaticum or cassia or Chinese 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) flavor than Ceylon cinnamon, is generally a medium to light reddish brown, hard and woody in texture, and thicker (2–3 mm (0.079–0.12 in) thick), as all of the layers of bark are used. Cinnamon is also sometimes confused with Malabathrum (Cinnamomum tamala).
Cinnamon is a prized spice mainly for its aromatic flavor. Its flavor 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 color, with the characteristic odor of cinnamon and a very hot aromatic taste. The pungent taste and scent come from cinnamic aldehyde or cinnamaldehyde (about 60 % of the bark oil) and, by the absorption of oxygen as it ages; it darkens in color and develops resinous compounds.
Cinnamon bark is widely used as a spice. It’s a vital ingredient in preparing the garam masala powder and is used as a condiment and flavoring material. It is used in the preparation of chocolate, especially in Mexico, which is the main importer of true cinnamon. It is also used in the preparation of various kinds of desserts, such as apple pie, doughnuts, and cinnamon buns as well as spicy candies, tea, hot cocoa, and liqueurs.
True cinnamon is also suitable for use in sweet dishes. In the Middle East, it is often used in savory dishes of chicken and lamb. In the United States, cinnamon and sugar are often used to flavor cereals, bread-based dishes, and fruits, especially apples; a cinnamon-sugar mixture is even sold separately for such purposes. Cinnamon can also be used in pickling. Cinnamon bark is one of the few spices that can be consumed directly. Cinnamon powder has long been an important spice in Persian cuisine, used in a variety of thick soups, drinks, and sweets.
Cinnamon has excellent medicinal values and like other volatile oils it has reputation to cure common colds. Its also used to treat diarrhea and other problems of the digestive system. Cinnamon is high in antioxidant activity and the essential oil of cinnamon has antimicrobial properties which can aid in preservation of certain foods. Cinnamon has traditionally been used to treat toothache and fight bad breath. It is reported that regularly drinking tea made from the bark of Sri Lanka cinnamon could be beneficial to oxidative stress related illness in humans, as the plant part contains significant antioxidant potential
Cinnamon is widely used in Middle East, India and other countries which use spices in their cooking. Cinnamon gives a pleasant aroma when you include it in your cooking. Be it Briyani rice to vegetable kurma or Gulab Jamoon syrup in the eastern culture. Cinnamon bun, bread, stix, roll, cake, chocolate and the list goes on in the western culture.
In Indian houses, usually they use cinnamon when they cook meat as cinnamon gives good smell and removes the stanch smell of the meat. A vegetarian will not have this issue because almost all the vegetables smell good when they are fresh or cooked. In this circumstance, cinnamon can be added in briyani rice or ghee rice before cooking. Moreover it can be added in any dessert syrup to give a pleasant aroma.
A pinch of cinnamon powder with honey can help you when you are down with cold. Both have the qualities in reducing cold. I usually take 1 tablespoon honey which is already mixed with spices and it helps to reduce cold.
The nutritional values per 4.52 g (2 tsp) of Cinnamon are:
Protein: 0.16 g
Carbohydrates: 3.6 g
Water: 0.44 g
Total Calories: 11.84
Dietary Fiber: 2.48 g
Total Fat: 0.16 g
Vitamin C: 1.28 mg
Vitamin K: 1.44 mcg
Calcium: 55.68 mg
Iron: 1.72 mg
Magnesium: 2.52 mg
Manganese: 0.76 mg
Phosphorus: 2.8 mg
Potassium: 22.68 mg
Sodium: 1.2 mg
Zinc: 0.08 mg