BOTANICAL NAME: Cinnamomum zeylanicum
FAMILY NAME: Lauraceae
Cinnamon and cassia, a relative spice, have long been associated with ancient rituals of sacrifice or pleasure. The Ancient Egyptians used the spice in embalming. Hieroglyphics discovered on a temple built around 1489 BC by Hypsicephal, a formidable Pharaoh queen, indicate that she sent ships to Punt, now Somalia, to bring back, among other things, cinnamon, frankincense and myrrh trees.
Throughout, the Old Testament in the Bible, references to cinnamon illustrate that it was more precious than gold. The Roman Emperor Nero is said to have murdered his wife in a fit of rage, then he ordered that a year's supply of cinnamon be burned at her funeral as a sign of remorse.
The trade for cinnamon was first documented by the 13th-century Arab writer Kazwini. Waves of traders and merchants profited from chis special aromatic crop: first the Portuguese in 1500, followed by the Dutch and then the British East India Company. When traders were taking European travellers to the island of Ceylon they would spread cinnamon on the decks of their ships just before sighting the island and amuse their passengers by telling them, 'Now you can smell it, soon you will see it'.
It was true, for the very best cinnamon grew at low altitudes on poor white sands. In the Victorian language of flowers, cinnamon is translated as meaning 'my fortune is yours'. In Austria lovers would exchange a posy containing cinnamon, reflecting warmth and love.
Cinnamon is appreciated in a multitude of dishes from around the world. The quills or cinnamon sticks are added whole to casseroles, rice dishes, mulled wines and punches, and to syrups Tor poaching fruit. In Mexico, they are used to stir mugs of hot steaming chocolate. Ground cinnamon is used in cakes, pastries and biscuits.
Cinnamon sticks and ground cinnamon are widely used in ail kinds of sweet and savory dishes. To make mulled wine add one or two cinnamon sticks to other flavouring ingredients and heat gently. Sprinkle prepared fruit, such as peaches, nectarines, pears and apples, with cinnamon-flavoured sugar and grill, until the sugar fa golden. Serve hot, with chilled creme fetich. To make cinnamon toast, toast bread on one side, then butter the untoasted side, sprinkle if with cinnamon sugar and toast it until golden. Add cinnamon to bread dough lo make savory buns to serve with tomato or pumpkin soup. Stir a cup of hot, sweet, fresh coffee with a cinnamon stick or sprinkle ground cinnamon over frothy milky cappuccino coffee.
The bouquet of cinnamon is delightfully exotic, sweet and fragrant, and its flavour is sweet and warm. Store cinnamon in an airtight jar, in a cool dark, cupboard. Buy little and often for the best flavour.
Cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka, Burma and the southern coastal strip of India. Sri Lanka still produces the best quality spice. Cinnamon now thrives in South America and the West Indies. A substantial crop also grows in the Seychelles and Reunion, taken there from Sri Lanka by Pierre Poivre, an enterprising missionary. Cinnamon is a bushy evergreen tree of the laurel family, cultivated as low bushes to case the harvesting process. The bushes like shelter and moderate rainfall without extremes in temperature.
Eight or ten lateral branches grow on each bush and, after three years, they are harvested in the rainy season, when the humidity makes the bark peel more easily. The slim branches are first peeled, then the inner bark is bruised with a brass rod to loosen it. Long incisions arc made in the branch, the bark lifts off and the drying process begins. The quilis of bark are rolled daily by hand until neat and compact, and any officuts are used to fill the longer quills.
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Cinnamon is a stimulant, astringent and carminative, used as an antidote for diarrhoea and stomach upsets. It is also given to women in labour as a sedative. Oil is extracted from the leaves, which are long, dark, glossy and beautifully aromatic. Oil from the leaves is used as a substitute for clove oil; oil from the broken bark is used in the manufacture of perfume. In Mexico, cinnamon is added as a flavouring in the manufacture of chocolate.