Cinnamon (coming soon)

We are familiar with cinnamon and know how to use this wonderful warm and aromatic spice. It has even got the title of original spice. But how much do we know about it and its colourful path to becoming a must have spice in our cabinet. 

To have a better understanding we must introduce you to the two types of cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon  and cassia cinnamon.

Ceylon cinnamon and cassia are from the same plant family which share one essential oil, but the Ceylon variety contains an extra 3 which gives it a more complex flavour specially appealing to people with sweet tooth.

Cinnamon also known as Ceylon cinnamon or real cinnamon is lighter in colour and the quills are much thinner which can be ground at home using a coffee grinder. 

Cassia also goes by the name Chinese cinnamon, Vietnamese cinnamon, canela de China amongst other names, is much thicker and darker. When the barks are harvested the exterior is usually not scraped and left under the sun, where it rolls up on itself. The reason why we also call Cassia cinnamon is because many years ago it was packed and shipped to us as cinnamon from North America.

Ceylon cinnamon history

When it comes to cinnamon Sri-Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon) is the king. And it has a very strong history regarding this subject to lay claim to this spice. 

Cinnamon and cassia have been used by humans for thousands of years, amongst its many uses ancient Egyptians also used it as a perfuming agent, in the Old Testament it is used as an ingredient in anointing oil, Greeks used it to flavour their wine. It is believed some time in the middle ages Arab and Middle Eastern traders  brought it to Europe and it instantly became very popular and expensive. 

For years the people from the East had the monopoly over the cinnamon trade, and to keep this monopoly the traders use to create wonderful tales about how they obtained this luxurious spice. One such tale reiterated by the Greek historian Herodotus, was that an enormous birds carried the cinnamon sticks to their nests high on top of an unreachable mountain peak. To collect the cinnamon people would leave large pieces of ox meat below these nests for the birds to collect. When the birds brought the meat into the nest, its weight would cause the nests to collapse to the ground, allowing the cinnamon sticks to be collected. Another tale would tell that the cinnamon was found in deep dark canyons guarded by thousands of snakes. 

To fined the source of this wonderful luxurious spice the Europeans set sale and Christopher Columbus was one of the first to claim he had discovered it in the new world. He wrote to Queen Isabella, but when he sent samples back home, it was discovered that the spice was not. Gonzalo Pizarro, a Spanish explorer was also in search of cinnamon in the Americas, hoping to find the “pais de la canela” or “cinnamon country” in the Amazon.

It wasn’t until early 1500s when Portuguese traders discovered cinnamon in Ceylon or present day Sri-Lanka and conquered its island of Kotto by enslaving the local population therefore gaining control of the cinnamon trade. This gave rise to the start of the famous spice wars.

During 1638 the kingdom of Kandy requested the help of Dutch East Indian Company and made an agreement to defeat the Portuguese. After their victory the Dutch held the kingdom to their dept and once again the Island was in control of another European trader. The Dutch East Indian Company now had the monopoly of cinnamon for around a century and a half. 

It was until late 1700s when the British took over the Island in the fourth Anglo-Dutch war. But in 1800  Cinnamon was not a rare commodity, specially since the introduction of cassia as cinnamon.

King Vimaladharmasurya I of Kandy receiving Dutch explorer Joris van Spilbergen, 1603
King Vimaladharmasurya I of Kandy receiving Dutch explorer Joris van Spilbergen, 1603
Bailing cinnamon quills.
Bailing cinnamon quills. Source Lankapura.com
peeling cinnamon barks
Only in Sri Lanka Cinnamon is peeled traditionally. Source Daily FT-ft.lk.

Ceylon cinnamon

Most of the Ceylon or real cinnamon is still cultivated in Sri-Lanka but other countries are joining the market. What makes Sri-Lankan cinnamon unique is they still use the old fashion peeling techniques, which help to preserve flavour and aroma. 

First the 2 year old trees are harvested and after that, twice a year the young shoots. The outer barks are scraped off and used as compost. The inner bark is then rubbed strenuously till it is slack. It is then peeled and layered on a rod to form a stick and left to air dry into quills. Apart from flavour and aroma the processing also adds to the reason why Ceylon cinnamon is more expensive than Cassia. 

The varieties and grades of cinnamon depend on the part of the shoots that are harvested. The lower parts of the shoot have thicker quills with sweet and woodier flavour, the tips of the shoots, which are the higher grade, have thinner quills and a more delicate spicy flavour. 

Spicy Fact

A year’s supply of cinnamon was actually burned at the funeral of Roman Emperor Nero’s wife after he killed her as a way of showing his remorse.

Zaravand Cinnamon

We will soon add 2 types of cinnamon quills to our products, Alba and Hamburg grade 1. Cinnamon grown in Sri-Lanka comes in 4 varieties

  1. Alba.
  2.  Continental, grades 4 and 5.
  3. Mexican, grades 4 and 5.
  4. Hamburg, grades 1 and 2.

We offer 2 grades of quill, Alba and Hamburg 1.

Alba, the highest quality grade, with tawny brown colour, uniquely fresh warm scent. Mild spicy, distinctively fresh with just a hint of citrus  flavour.

Hamburg 1 or H1, is from the lower parts of the shoots, the colour is a bit lighter than Alba. The scent is warm and woody, with a hint of floral. Slightly spicy, warm and a hint of sweet flavour.   

Frequently asked questions

Cinnamon has many beneficial properties. It’s anti-inflammatory, boosts cognitive function and brain health. Contains substanial amount of Manganese, helps prevent and fights candid, aids weight loss. It has anti-diabetic effects and reduces cramps and symptoms of menstruation.

Both Ceylon and cassia are delicious, but if you are a regular cinnamon user it is safer to use Ceylon. Cassia contains coumarin which is harmful if used in large regularly and in large doses. 

Cinnamon helps to increase the flow of mother’s milk. It will also help in delaying periods after childbirth. A pinch of cinnamon should be added to half a teaspoon of honey or to a glass of warm milk and consumed.

NDTV, World Breastfeeding week.

 If you look after your spice it will never go bad. Cinnamon quills will keep their potency for 2 years and after that they will gradually loose their aroma and flavour. Ground cinnamon on the other hand will loose its potency much faster, It’s better to use it within 1 year. If you keep your spice in a cabinet away from humidity then you’ll definitely enjoy its flavour and aroma for longer.

Ceylon cinnamon is harvested once or twice per year. When a tree is 2 years old it is first harvested and then once or twice per year the young shoots will be harvested. The tree will grow back in time for the next harvest. It is more of a pruning rather than chopping.