Cinnamon is an ancient spice. It is referenced in the Bible, listed as an ingredient in embalming formulas in ancient Egyptian writings and is described in a 5,000-year old herbal reputedly penned by Shennong, an emperor of Chinese mythology also known as The Divine Farmer and considered the father of Chinese herbal medicine (not to mention the guy who gave us tea). Roman nobles guarded their cinnamon stash as closely as they did other valuables, while their emperor, Nero, sought absolution for allegedly causing the premature death of his young wife, Poppaea, by ordering all of the city’s reserves of the spice to be burned upon her funeral pyre.
Although cinnamon was a symbol of social status and mobility in the ancient world for thousands of years, it would not become a commodity of high demand in the world beyond the Mediterranean until the 16th century. In the 1,500-plus years that would span between the time that a mad emperor sacrificed a year’s worth of cinnamon to invoke forgiveness for murder and the day anyone anywhere could casually sprinkle the ground spice on their morning bowl of oatmeal, many capital and cardinal sins would be committed in the name of cinnamon.
*Cassia may have been one of the spices mixed into a formula used to wash the body for mummification or used inside as a sort of “stuffing” for the body to retain its shape*
Up until the Middle Ages, the Arabs held a monopoly on the cinnamon trade, the market price of which was driven by deliberately restricted supplies delivered via challenging land routes and wild stories of how the spice was obtained to discourage competition. These tales ranged from great stores of the spice being protected by venomous snakes to giant birds using cinnamon quills to build their nests atop mountains impossible for any mortal human to ascend.
The deceitful strategy worked well for several hundred years, until the Venetians took control of the trade in the 14th century, followed by an enterprising Portuguese explorer named Dom Vasco da Gama, who found an ocean passage route directly to India by sailing around the Cape of Good Hope. The quest for cinnamon was about to be taken to a new level with a focus on a remote island off the southeast coast of India, a place previously speculated about but remained elusive to Spanish explorers — pais de la canela, or “the country of cinnamon.”
With European demand for cinnamon now at its peak, Portuguese traders ruthlessly secured their control of shipping routes and a significant source of the spice by conquering the Kingdom of Kotte, the center of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). For the next 100 years, island residents would serve as slaves, wandering Venetian merchants would mysteriously disappear and a fair number of the 200-plus sunken ships residing around the coast of the island today would meet their watery fates during this time period.
By the mid-17th century, and with the aid of the neighboring Kingdom of Kandy, the Dutch seized control of the Galle harbor at Ceylon, eventually displacing the Portuguese and securing the entire Malabar Coast to push the former out even further. In compensation for this eviction, the Dutch continued to occupy the kingdom and dominate the cinnamon trade. As a result, the already established Dutch East India Company became the largest company known to the world at that time and the first to finance its operations by offering shares with dividends equaling a 40% return on investment. It was a very successful and profitable commercial enterprise, to say the least. That is, until the British showed up.
When the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War between Great Britain and the Dutch Republic ended in 1784, the former took hold of Ceylon, where the production and export of cinnamon by the British East India Company climbed to a thousand metric tons by the mid-19th century. While the war over cinnamon was ultimately won by the British, the victory was bittersweet since cultivation of the spice in other parts of the world made its novelty and price decline. The popularity of cinnamon also found competition from another newly discovered and possibly even more sinful commodity: chocolate.
By 1800, there was also an increased demand for Cassia cinnamon, a variety produced in Indonesia that has a stronger aroma and flavor than the “true” Ceylon cinnamon. Historically, cassia is the less expensive of the two and is the type most often found in supermarkets today. In contrast, the milder and slightly sweeter Ceylon cinnamon is the variety preferred for baking and topping off hot chocolate or coffee.
Use cinnamon sticks to sweeten and stir your favorite hot beverage at the same time.
floral crafts rejuvenator
Freshen floral displays and wreaths with a few drops of cinnamon essential oil.
Combine a few drops of cinnamon essential oil with 2 ounces of witch hazel extract or vodka and use as a room spray or a personal “skeeter” repellent.
Cinnamon Information Poster!
Courtesy of Monterrey Bay Spice Company
All of the information on this post was gathered for you from Monterrey Bay Spice Co. Thank you!