Do you know where cinnamon comes from? It’s a spice we use all the time, but do you know where it grows and how it comes to be in our cinnamon buns? Cinnamon is one of those sweet spices that is so versatile — in and outside the kitchen — that we might even take it for granted sometimes.
Cinnamon trees belong to a large genus of some 250 species, most of which are aromatic. True Cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon and the south-eastern coast of India while the closely related Cassia is native to China. Cinnamon and Cassia are both small tropical evergreen trees that grow up to 20 – 30 feet tall, with aromatic bark and leaves.
Despite its exotic, distant origin, Cinnamon was known and widely used in the ancient world. The Arabs were the first to introduce it to the west and dominated the trade for centuries via their network of trading routes that went as far as China. Their account of where and how Cinnamon and Cassia were obtained proves that exaggerated marketing techniques were not invented yesterday.
Cinnamon trade was big, even in the ancient world. Tons of it were imported, as it was extensively used for ritual and mundane purposes. The Egyptians used it for embalming potions, perfumes, incense, and oils. It is also mentioned in the Old Testament. In fact, the word ‘Cinnamon’ is derived from the ancient Hebrew word ‘kinnämön, which in turn probably originates from the Malay or Indonesian term ‘Kayumanis’, meaning ‘sweet wood’.
Today, all commercial Cinnamon derives from plantations, so there is no pressure on wild populations. The trees take well to regular coppicing. They are harvested for the first time after about 3-4 years, and regular coppicing not only increases the yield but also keeps their growth bush-like, which makes harvesting easier.
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