Cinnamon (pronounced /ˈsɪnəmən/ SIN-ə-mən or /ˈsɪnəmʌn/ SIN-ə-mun) is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several trees from the genus Cinnamomum which can be used in both sweet and savory foods. Cinnamon trees are native to South East Asia, and its origin was mysterious in Europe until the sixteenth century.
Cinnamon has been known from remote antiquity. The Old Testament 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. 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. 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, but those who report that it had come from China confuse it with cassia. It is also alluded to by Herodotus and other classical writers. It was too expensive to be commonly used on funeral pyres in Rome, but the Emperor Nero is said to have burned a year’s worth of the city’s supply at the funeral for his wife Poppaea Sabina in A.D. 65.
Before the foundation of Cairo, Alexandria was the Mediterranean shipping port of cinnamon. Europeans who knew the Latin writers who were quoting Herodotus knew that 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. Through the Middle Ages, the source of cinnamon was a mystery to the Western world. Marco Polo avoided precision on this score. 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, although in the first century, Pliny the Elder had written that the traders had made this up in order to charge more. 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.
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 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. 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.
In 1767 Lord Brown of East India Company established Anjarakkandy Cinnamon Estate near Anjarakkandy in Cannanore (now Kannur) district of Kerala, and this estate became Asia’s largest cinnamon estate.
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 bark is widely used as a spice. It is principally employed in cookery 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 some kinds of desserts, such as apple pie, donuts, and cinnamon buns as well as spicy candies, 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 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. It is often mixed with rosewater or other spices to make a cinnamon-based curry powder for stews or just sprinkled on sweet treats (most notably Shole-zard, Persian شله زرد).
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. Other chemical components of the essential oil include ethyl cinnamate, eugenol (found mostly in the leaves), beta-caryophyllene, linalool, and methyl chavicol.
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 diarrhea 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 2 diabetes mellitus and insulin resistance. The plant material used in the study was mostly from Chinese cinnamon (see Chinese cinnamon’s medicinal uses). Recent advancement in phytochemistry has shown that it is a cinnamtannin B1 isolated from C. verum which is of therapeutic effect on Type 2 diabetes, with the exception of 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.
Pharmacological experiments suggest that the cinnamon-derived dietary factor cinnamic aldehyde (cinnamaldehyde) activates the Nrf2-dependent antioxidant response in human epithelial colon cells and may therefore represent an experimental chemopreventive dietary factor targeting colorectal carcinogenesis. Recent research documents anti-melanoma activity of cinnamic aldehyde observed in cell culture and a mouse model of human melanoma.
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 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. This is not surprising since cinnamon possesses one of the highest ORAC values per weight for foodstuffs and ranks highest in antioxidant per price, far surpassing acai berry for example.
One teaspoon of cinnamon contains as many antioxidants as a full cup of pomegranate juice and 1/2 a cup of blueberries.