Statistics prove that cinnamon is the second most popular spice after pepper in western history.
Today, cinnamon pays much smaller role in our culinary art than centuries ago.
In ancient Rome, cinnamon was with fifteen times its weight in silver. It was a prized luxury, and used only by the richest and prestigious inhabitants of the Empire.
is the thin layer between the bark and trunk of a specious of the laurel tree that grows best in Sri Lanka.
Other types of laurel grow in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, Madagascar, Zanzibar, and Egypt yielding a similar looking product called cassia. Cassia does not possess the same taste.
In North American grocery stores, most so-called cinnamon sticks are actually cassia, and much less expensive than the real “McCoy”.
If you happen to be visiting Sri Lanka look for authentic cinnamon and buy a kilo. At home you can bundle five or six and give them as presents to your friends and family. They will thank you for your gesture and hopefully, start asking grocery store managers to bring in the authentic cinnamon.
is used for cinnamon toast, buns, apple pie, mulled wine, vin chaud, gluhwein, cappuccino and many other processed food including chocolate
Both cinnamon and cassia have been used for than 50 centuries in cooking. Ancient Egyptians used it for embalming, in oils, wine, baked goods, and even for disinfecting homes.
Arab traders located in Alexandria, Egypt, long time ago and for centuries, controlled the cinnamon trade between southern Asia and Europe and spread all kinds of tall tales about its growing regions and sources of supply. The cinnamon trade was particularly lucrative between Venice and Alexandria. Eventually, Venice became the European entry port of cinnamon, and Venetian traders made fortunes, as did the city-state. You can see the wealth today in Venice’s churches, official buildings, and lodges of rich merchants.
In the 13th century Europeans used cinnamon in stews casseroles, roast meat, and dipping sauces.
In those days herbs and spices were limited since they were not readily available particularly during the winter months, and spices played an important role in making food taste more acceptable, and interesting.
I16th century Spanish conquistadors actively sought sources of cinnamon in South America with no success.
Cinnamon needs a “terroir” and only Sri Lanka and possibly a few other southeastern Asian countries have.
When European explorers landed in Ceylon (Sri Lanka today), and found cinnamon, they immediately settled and started buying all the cinnamon they could find.
At first Portuguese took hold of the country and trade, later the Dutch, and last in the 18th century, the English.
The Dutch were the first to start cinnamon plantations, as the natural growth could not meet demand.
Sri Lanka produces still today 90 per cent of the authentic cinnamon in the world from its plantations using the techniques started by the Dutch.
In India and Sri Lanka cinnamon is an important constituent of garam masala and in China as part of the five-spice powder.
In India, cinnamon is used as a spice component of biryani, a rich dish of rice, chicken and vegetables.
Cinnamon has some medicinal qualities but government officials do not mention them since no food in North America may be advertised with a claim of pharmaceutical value.
Authentic cinnamon is tan, thin, and brittle. If you search long and hard enough in Montreal, or any big city with a multicultural population, you may be able to source authentic cinnamon, which is fragrant, vibrant, flavourful, and downright addictive. But if you happen to be in Colombo, just go to a spice store, or better yet ask the concierge of your hotel to recommend a reputable one.
The biggest importer of cinnamon in the world is Mexico where it is used for chocolate production.