Cinnamon – canela – is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several trees from the genus Cinnamomum that is used in both sweet and savoury foods. Cinnamon is the name for perhaps a dozen species of trees and the commercial spice products that some of them produce. Only a few of them are grown commercially for spice. This ancient spice was imported from Egypt from as early as 2000 BC and was highly prized in ancient times being regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and gods.
Sri Lanka produces up to 90% of the world’s supply of Cinnamon Verum, although it is also cultivated on a commercial scale in the Seychelles and Madagascar. The Sri Lankan Cinnamon has a very thin, smooth bark with a light-yellowish brown colour and a highly fragrant aroma. Much of the more common variety of Cinnamon, up to 25,000 tons, is produced in Indonesia, China, India and Vietnam.
The Cinnamon tree is harvested after about two years and then the tree is coppiced resulting in shoots appearing from the roots. The branches harvested this way are processed by scraping off the outer bark, then beating the branch evenly with a hammer to loosen the inner bark. The inner bark is then pried out in long rolls. Only 0.5 mm of the inner bark is used. The outer, woody portion is discarded, leaving metre-long Cinnamon strips that curl into rolls or quills on drying. Once dry, the Cinnamon bark is cut into 5-10cm lengths and must be processed immediately after harvesting while it is still wet. Once processed, the bark will dry completely in 4-6 hours, provided it is in a well-ventilated and relatively warm environment. A less than ideal drying environment encourages the proliferation of pests in the bark, which may then require treatment by fumigation. Bark treated this way is not considered to be of the same premium quality as untreated bark.
The flavour of Cinnamon is due to an aromatic essential oil that makes up 0.5% to 1% of its composition. This essential oil is prepared by roughly pounding the bark, macerating it in sea water and then quickly distilling it. The Cinnamon essential oil is a golden-yellow colour, with the characteristic odour of Cinnamon and a very hot aromatic taste.
Cinnamon bark is widely used as a spice in cookery as a condiment and as flavouring. It is used in the preparation of chocolate, especially in Mexico, which is the main importer of Cinnamon. It is also used in many dessert recipes, such as apple pies, doughnuts, and Cinnamon buns as well as spicy sweets, tea, hot cocoa, and liqueurs. In the Middle East, it is often used in savoury dishes of chicken and lamb. Cinnamon can also be used in pickling and Cinnamon powder has long been an important spice used in a variety of thick soups and drinks. It is often mixed with rosewater or other spices to make a Cinnamon-based curry powder for stews or just sprinkled on sweet treats.
Cinnamon leaf oil has been found to be very effective in killing mosquito larvae and as a warm and dry substance, was believed by doctors in ancient times to cure snakebites, freckles, the common cold and kidney troubles, among other ailments.
Cinnamon is used in traditional medicine and several studies have tested chemicals extracted from Cinnamon for various possible medicinal effects such as Type 2 Diabetes and Alzheimer’s.