History of cinnamon
Known as one of the oldest spices and referred to in the bible, it is believed that cinnamon was used from 2,000 B.C and was brought over to Europe by Arab traders where it’s popularity and status as a luxury item continued to grow. Traded in the world since the 1500s the demand for cinnamon created some of the first international trade routes and cinnamon was traded in the Middle East and Europe.
It’s difficult to pin point where it was originally grown and produced because until the 16th century, it’s location was kept a secret by Arab traders (to protect its price), who conjured up some colourful stories such as large birds guarding it and using it as a nest, to dangerous snakes protecting it in canyons!
Considered one of very first traded spices it was transported on Indonesian rafts to East Africa on the “cinnamon route” and then continued the long journey carried to the Roman markets. It was then brought over to Egypt by Arab traders and from Egypt, Venetian traders from Italy purchased the spice and controlled the monopoly of Europe’s spice trade.
It’s claimed that cinnamon was discovered by Europeans in the early 16th century at Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), probably by Portuguese traders. The Portuguese were eventually overthrown a century later by the Dutch, until 1784, when Britain took over Ceylon.
By 1800 it was no longer seen as rare and other items such as chocolate were becoming more popular.
Today it is available in a quill form (cinnamon stick) or as a ground powder and there are two varieties of cinnamon: –
- Ceylon which has a delicate and sweet taste and Cassia also known as Chinese cinnamon which has a stronger smell and taste and is cheaper to produce. Cinnamon sticks are graded into four grades, Alba, Continental, Mexican and Hamburg based on the quality, look, colour, flavour, diameter and tightness of the curl.
- Cassia cinnamon is what would normally be found in the supermarket and is seen as the lesser quality of the two products.
Ceylon cinnamon is mainly grown in Sri Lanka, which was previously known as Ceylon, although it is also grown in India, the Caribbean and Brazil. Cassia cinnamon comes from Indonesia, China, Burma, Bangladesh, India, Brazil, Madagascar, Uganda and Vietnam.