Cinnamon has been around for centuries. It wasn’t always used as a spice for baked goodies. In ancient times it was used in all sorts of stuff, from incense to medical cures to a form of money!
Let’s find out more about this lovely aromatic.
Where does cinnamon come from?
Cinnamon, or what’s referred to as “true cinnamon” comes from Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka use to be called Ceylon. It’s located off the coast of India in the Indian Ocean.
Now its own country, this small nation was once a major player in the spice trade. All the countries involved in buying and selling spices wanted to own this island. All because of cinnamon.
The reason it’s called “true cinnamon” if it comes from Sri Lanka is because this is where cinnamon is thought to have originated.
There are other types of cinnamon now grown in other parts of the world, but Sri Lanka was the most known at the time.
Just what is cinnamon?
Cinnamon, used as a spice and for flavoring and for aromatics, is actually the bark of a tree.
You see, cinnamon sticks sold in stores, or as part of a potpourri arrangement, as little rolled up pieces of wood. This is the result of harvesting the bark of the tree.
Trees from the Cinnamomum species are what produce this highly aromatic spice.
How is cinnamon harvested?
The Cinnamomum trees have an outer layer of bark which is white. They have oval-shaped leaves and produce a pitted fruit called a drupe. The leaves can be used as flavoring, as well as the bark. It’s mainly the bark which is harvested for commercially sold cinnamon.
The trees are left to grow for two years. Then they are cut close to the ground.
What happens then is that a whole bunch of stems grow around the cut bits. This is a process known as coppicing the tree.
These new stems grow about 3 feet tall or so and then they’re harvested. The stems have to be worked on immediately, while the inner bark is still wet.
To get the cinnamon bark, the stem is stripped of the outer bark. Then the stem is pounded to loosen the inner bark. That bit is peeled off in long strips and allowed to dry.
The inner bark is only about .5 millimeters thick. That’s a pretty thin sheet of bark.
As it dries, it curls up into the tubes. These are called quills. This process takes about 6 hours or so, in warm and dry conditions.
And from there the quills are cut into bits about 2-4 inches long. These are the cinnamon sticks that you can find for sale. The smaller bits are also used to make ground cinnamon.
The original way to harvest cinnamon was all done by hand. It was a tedious and time-consuming process. And it was done by the people who lived and were pressed into service by the spice traders.
There were also types of cinnamon which grew in China and Indonesia. It was all processed the same way.
The spice traders kept this information a secret.
They wanted to control how much of this precious spice went out to the world, and that controlled how much it cost.
It wasn’t a cheap spice. Plus, keeping cinnamon’s origins a secret led to all kinds of mythical tales about where it came from and why it cost so much.
There is one story that was told in about 7th century Greece where there were great “cinnamon birds” who gathered cinnamon sticks from a far-off land and used them to build their nests!
The nests had to be raided to get the cinnamon sticks.
There is another legend which stated that spices like cinnamon, myrrh, and other expensive spices of the age were guarded by winged serpents!
The spice trade for cinnamon goes back at least to 2,000 BC with the Egyptians. They would use it as incense. It was also an ingredient in the items they used for mummification!
And now it’s a common ingredient in breakfast cereals.
Just how expensive was cinnamon?
According to the Roman naturalist and philosopher, Pliny the Elder, a single Roman pound of cinnamon cost what translated to 50 months’ worth of wages.
Can you even imagine having to work for over 4 years to make enough for a pound of spice? That was somewhere between 24 and 79 A.D.
Not too much later, in 301 A.D., a price was recorded for 125 denarii for a pound of the spice. The average agricultural worker only earned 25 denarii per day!
In the 16th to 18th centuries, cinnamon was regarded as one of the more expensive spices you could get. You would have been considered quite wealthy to have cinnamon in your stock of spices at home!
How many ways was cinnamon used?
Well, you’ve read about its use in ancient Egypt as an ingredient in the mummification process. It was touted as a cure for the plague in Europe!
For thousands of years, cinnamon has been used as a medicine. It has been used as an incense and in ancient Greece it was even used as a gift for their gods.
Even today cinnamon is used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicines. It’s prescribed to treat digestive problems. In Sri Lanka a tea is brewed from cinnamon and drank to relieve stress.
Cinnamon has had a long an interesting history. It’s been included in mythology and mummification. And now that you know, you might not look at cinnamon rolls the same way again!
You can enjoy the flavor of cinnamon in your holiday treats! Check out our World Treats Box for recipes and delicious spice blends!