History of cinnamon use

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Cinnamon is an evergreen tree species of the genus Cinnamomum of the Lauraceae family. Cinnamon is also the name of the dried bark of the tree, which is used as a spice.

The pungent cinnamon flavor is unmistakable for everyone, usually evoking the notion of oven-hot cinnamon rolls. Cinnamon was once so highly prized that wars were fought over it, it was used as currency and possessed aphrodisiac powers.

Cinnamon: origins and history

Originally from Ceylon (Sri Lanka), the true cinnamon, Cinnamomum zeylanicum, dates back to Chinese writings before 2800 BC. and is still known as kwai in Cantonese. Its botanical name comes from the Hebrew and Arabic term amomon, meaning a fragrant spice plant. The ancient Egyptians used cinnamon in the embalming process. The Italians called this word canella, which means “small pipe”, and aptly describes cinnamon sticks.

In the first century AD, Pliny the Elder wrote off 350 grams of cinnamon for more than five kilograms of silver, which is about fifteen times the cost of silver by weight.

Cinnamon was used by medieval doctors

Medieval doctors used cinnamon in medicines to treat coughs, hoarseness, and sore throats. As a sign of remorse, the Roman emperor Nero ordered the burning of a year’s supply of cinnamon after he killed his wife.

The spice has also been prized for its meat-preserving properties thanks to phenols, which suppress spoilage bacteria, with the added bonus of a strong cinnamon flavor masking the stench of aged meat.

Cinnamon war

In the 17th century, the Dutch took over the world’s largest cinnamon supplier, the island of Ceylon, from the Portuguese, demanding outrageous quotas from the poor working class of Chalia. When the Dutch learned about the source of cinnamon along the coast of India, they bribed and threatened the local king to destroy it all, thus maintaining their monopoly on the valuable spice.

In 1795, England captured Ceylon from the French, who acquired it after defeating Holland during the revolutionary wars.

By 1833, the cinnamon monopoly collapsed when other countries found it could be grown easily in areas such as Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Mauritius, Reunion, and Guyana. Cinnamon is also currently grown in South America, the West Indies, and other tropical climates.

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