By Liliana Usvat
Few of us ever think about where cinnamon comes from, but can you imagine walking down a street lined with Cinnamon Trees? That’s everyday life for those who live in the Islands of Malaya. Native to India, Malaya, Ceylon, China, Japan and Taiwan, depending on the exact species, are as common to them as some of our native trees are to us.
Cinnamon is Asia’s Most Popular Spice Tree.
The cinnamon sticks we commonly buy are made from the bark of the tree, and are rolled naturally by being sun-dried.
Cinnamon spice is made from tree bark. Two species of the cinnamon tree are most common, and provide most of the spice sold worldwide. The spice from Cinnamomum cassia has a stronger taste and dark brown colour. This version of the spice is popular in the United States. “True” cinnamon is a common term for the Cinnamomum zeylanicum, a native of Sri Lanka (Ceylon). Its spice is sweeter in flavour. Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several trees from the genus Cinnamomum that is used in both sweet and savoury foods.
While Cinnamomum verum is sometimes considered to be truecinnamon“, most cinnamon in international commerce is derived from related species, which are also referred to as “cassia” to distinguish them from “true cinnamon”.
Trees grow in full sun and part shade and enjoy regular watering throughout the year.
Cinnamon in History Mothology and Religion
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 Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Malabar Coast of India and Burma.
It was so highly prized among ancient nations that it was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and even for a god: a fine inscription records the gift of cinnamon and cassia to the temple of Apollo at Miletus.
The first Greek reference to kasia is found in a poem by Sappho in the seventh century BC.
According to Herodotus, both cinnamon and cassia grew in Arabia, together with incense, myrrh, and ladanum, and are guarded by winged serpents. The phoenix was reputed to build its nest from cinnamon and cassia.
But Herodotus mentions other writers who see the home of Dionysos, somewhere east or south of Greece, as the source of cassia. While Theophrastus gives a rather good account of the plants, a curious method for harvesting (worms eat away the wood and leave the bark behind) was described.
The Greeks used kásia or malabathron to flavour wine, together with absinth wormwood (Artemisia absinthium).
Egyptian recipes for kyphi, an aromatic used for burning, included cinnamon and cassia from Hellenistic times onwards.
The gifts of Hellenistic rulers to temples sometimes included cassia and cinnamon, as well as incense, myrrh, and Indian incense (kostos), so one can conclude that the Greeks used it in this way too.
According to Pliny, a pound (the Roman pound, 327 g) of cassia, cinnamon, or serichatum cost up to 300 denarii, the wage of ten months’ labour.
Before the foundation of Cairo, Alexandria was the Mediterranean shipping port of cinnamon. Europeans who knew the Latin writers who were quoting Herodotus knew cinnamon came up the Red Sea to the trading ports of Egypt, but whether from Ethiopia or not was less than clear. When the Sieur de Joinville accompanied his king to Egypt on crusade in 1248, he reported what he had been told—and believed—that cinnamon was fished up in nets at the source of the Nile out at the edge of the world.
Cinnamon has been known from remote antiquity. It was imported to Egypt as early as 2000 BC, but those who report that it had come from China confuse it with cassia.
- The Hebrew Bible makes specific mention of the spice many times: first when Moses is commanded to use both sweet cinnamon (Hebrew: קִנָּמוֹן, qinnāmôn) and cassia in the holy anointing oil;
- in Proverbs where the lover’s bed is perfumed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon; and
- in Song of Solomon, a song describing the beauty of his beloved, cinnamon scents her garments like the smell of Lebanon. Cassia was also part of the ketoret, the consecrated incense described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud.
- It is also referred to as the HaKetoret (the incense). It was offered on the specialized incense altar in the time when the Tabernacle was located in the First and Second Jerusalem Temples.
- The ketoret was an important component of the Temple service in Jerusalem.
- Psalm 45:8 mentions the garments of the king (or of Torah scholars) that smell of myrrh, aloes and cassia.
Cinnamon bark is widely used as a spice. It is principally employed in cookery as a condiment and flavouring material. It is used in the preparation of chocolate, especially in Mexico, which is the main importer of cinnamon.
It is also used in many dessert recipes, such as apple pie, doughnuts, and cinnamon buns as well as spicy candies, coffee, tea, hot cocoa, and liqueurs.
True cinnamon, rather than cassia, is more suitable for use in sweet dishes. In the Middle East, it is often used in savoury dishes of chicken and lamb.
In the United States, cinnamon and sugar are often used to flavour cereals, bread-based dishes, such as toast, 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.
Surprising Health Benefits of Cinnamon
- Numerous studies show that cinnamon regulates blood sugar, making it a great choice for diabetics and hypoglycemics alike. That’s also great news for anyone who wants stable energy levels and moods.
- It reduces LDL cholesterol levels. LDL is also known as the harmful cholesterol. Reducing it may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- It has natural anti-infectious compounds. In studies, cinnamon has been effective against ulcer-causing H. pylori bacteria and other pathogens.
- It reduces pain linked to arthritis. Cinnamon has been shown in studies at the Department of Internal Medicine, Kangnam Korean Hospital, to reduce cytokines linked to arthritic pain.
- Research at the University of Texas, published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer, shows that cinnamon may reduce the proliferation of cancer cells, holding promise for cancer prevention and sufferers of the disease.
- It is a natural food preservative.
- It contains fiber, calcium, iron, and manganese—albeit small amounts to the typical dose of ground cinnamon.
- It’s been proven effective for menstrual pain and
- infertility. Cinnamon contains a natural chemical called cinnamaldehyde, which studies show increases the hormone progesterone and decreases testosterone production in women, helping to balance hormones.
- Cinnamon holds promise for various neurodegenerative diseases, including: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, brain tumor, and meningitis, according to research at the Cytokine Research Laboratory, Department of Experimental Therapeutics, The University of Texas. Their research shows that cinnamon reduces chronic inflammation linked with these neurological disorders.
Propagation and Maintenance
Two major methods of Cinnamon propagation
- Seed propagation –The collected fleshy berries are left in heaps for about 2-4 days in shade in order to soften and rot. Pulp is then removed and air dried. Over fermented and partially filled seeds along with damaged seeds should be excluded by hand sorting. Only the large and medium sized seeds are selected.
- Vegetative propagation – Propagation by stem cuttings Cinnamon can also be propagated by cuttings of young one-leaved shoots or by layering. Partially matured shoots (Semi hard wood) with a node are removed from selected mother plants with desired characteristics. Single node shoots are prepared by making sloping cut just above the node (length of cutting 1″).Cuttings should be put into water immediately and maintained in water until planted in polythene bags. Polythene bags 12.5 cm wide and 20 cm long should be pressed to be firm. The filled polythene bags should be put together, within frames made of bamboo or suitable supports to give beds not more than 1 m wide. The soil under the pots should have been forked over to ensure good drainage. 2-3 cuttings should be placed in each bag. The bed of polythene bags and cutting must be kept moist. In order to prevent water losses through evapo-transpiration the bags must be covered with polythene (This type of an arrangement is known as simple propagator). It is also important to protect from direct sun light. After 2 months, the shade has to be removed gradually for hardening of plantlets. The rooted plantlets are ready for planting in 6-8months.
Cinnamon prefer deep, well-drained, moist soil in order to perform their best. They hate root disturbance and should be grown in one container until they are put in their permanent place.