Cinnamon (// SIN-ə-mən) is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several trees from the genus Cinnamomum that is used in both sweet and savoury foods. The term "cinnamon" also refers to its mid-brown colour. While Cinnamomum verum is sometimes considered to be "true cinnamon", most cinnamon in international commerce is derived from related species, which are also referred to as "cassia" to distinguish them from "true cinnamon".
Cinnamon is the name for perhaps a dozen species of trees and the commercial spice products that some of them produce. All are members of the genus Cinnamomum in the family Lauraceae. Only a few of them are grown commercially for spice.
The English word "cinnamon", attested in English since the 15th century, derives from the Greek κιννάμωμον kinnámōmon (later kínnamon), via Latin and medieval French intermediate forms. The Greek was borrowed from a Phoenician word, which was akin to the related Hebrew qinnamon.
The name "cassia", first recorded in English around AD 1000, was borrowed via Latin and ultimately derives from Hebrew q'tsīʿāh, a form of the verb qātsaʿ, "to strip off bark".
Early Modern English also used the names canel and canella, akin to the current names of cinnamon in several other European languages, which are derived from the Latin word cannella, a diminutive of canna, "tube", from the way the bark curls up as it dries.
Cinnamon has been known from remote antiquity. It was imported to Egypt as early as 2000 BCE, but those who report it had come from China confuse it with cassia. Cinnamon was so highly prized among ancient nations that it was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and even for a god; a fine inscription records the gift of cinnamon and cassia to the temple of Apollo at Miletus. Though its source was kept mysterious in the Mediterranean world for centuries by the middlemen who handled the spice trade, to protect their monopoly as suppliers, cinnamon is native to Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Malabar Coast of India, and Burma.
The first Greek reference to kasia is found in a poem by Sappho in the seventh century BCE. According to Herodotus, both cinnamon and cassia grew in Arabia, together with incense, myrrh, and ladanum, and were guarded by winged serpents. The phoenix was reputed to build its nest from cinnamon and cassia. Herodotus mentions other writers who believed the source of cassia was the home of Dionysos, located somewhere east or south of Greece.
The Greeks used kásia or malabathron to flavour wine, together with absinth wormwood (Artemisia absinthium). While Theophrastus gives a good account of the plants, he describes a curious method for harvesting: worms eat away the wood and leave the bark behind.
Egyptian recipes for kyphi, an aromatic used for burning, included cinnamon and cassia from Hellenistic times onward. The gifts of Hellenistic rulers to temples sometimes included cassia and cinnamon, as well as incense, myrrh, and Indian incense (kostos), so one might conclude that the Greeks used it for similar purposes.
The Hebrew Bible makes specific mention of the spice many times: first when Moses is commanded to use both sweet cinnamon (Hebrew: קִנָּמוֹן, qinnāmôn) and cassia in the holy anointing oil; in Proverbs where the lover's bed is perfumed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon; and in Song of Solomon, a song describing the beauty of his beloved, cinnamon scents her garments like "the smell of Lebanon". Cassia was also part of the ketoret, the consecrated incense described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud. It was offered on the specialized incense altar in the time when the Tabernacle was located in the First and Second Jerusalem temples. The ketoret was an important component of the temple service in Jerusalem. Psalm 45:8 mentions the garments of the king (or of Torah scholars) that smell of myrrh, aloes, and cassia.
Pliny gives an account of the early spice trade across the Red Sea that cost Rome 100 million sesterces each year. Cinnamon was brought around the Arabian peninsula on "rafts without rudders or sails or oars", taking advantage of the winter trade winds. Pliny also mentions cassia as a flavouring agent for wine.
According to Pliny, a Roman pound (327 grams (11.5 oz)) of cassia, cinnamon, or serichatum cost up to 300 denarii, the wage of ten months' labour. Diocletian's Edict on Maximum Prices from 301 AD gives a price of 125 denarii for a pound of cassia, while an agricultural labourer earned 25 denarii per day. Cinnamon was too expensive to be commonly used on funeral pyres in Rome, but the Emperor Nero is said to have burned a year's worth of the city's supply at the funeral for his wife Poppaea Sabina in AD 65.
Malabathrum leaves (folia) were used in cooking and for distilling an oil used in a caraway sauce for oysters by the Roman gourmet Gaius Gavius Apicius. Malabathrum is among the spices that, according to Apicius, any good kitchen should contain.
The famous Commagenum unguent produced in Commagene, in present-day eastern Turkey, was made from goose fat aromatised with cinnamon oil and spikenard. Malobathrum from Egypt (Dioscorides I, 63) was based on beef fat and contained cinnamon, as well; one pound cost 300 denarii. The Roman poet Martial (VI, 55) made fun of Romans who drip unguents, smell of cassia and cinnamon taken from a bird's nest, and look down on a man who does not smell at all.
Through the Middle Ages, the source of cinnamon was a mystery to the Western world. From reading Latin writers who quoted Herodotus, Europeans had learned that cinnamon came up the Red Sea to the trading ports of Egypt, but where it came from was less than clear. When the Sieur de Joinville accompanied his king to Egypt on crusade in 1248, he reported – and believed – what he had been told: that cinnamon was fished up in nets at the source of the Nile out at the edge of the world (i.e., Ethiopia). Marco Polo avoided precision on the topic. Herodotus and other authors named Arabia as the source of cinnamon: they recounted that giant cinnamon birds collected the cinnamon sticks from an unknown land where the cinnamon trees grew and used them to construct their nests, and that the Arabs employed a trick to obtain the sticks. Pliny the Elder wrote in the first century that traders had made this up to charge more, but the story remained current in Byzantium as late as 1310.
The first mention that the spice grew in Sri Lanka was in Zakariya al-Qazwini's Athar al-bilad wa-akhbar al-‘ibad ("Monument of Places and History of God's Bondsmen") about 1270. This was followed shortly thereafter by John of Montecorvino in a letter of about 1292.
Indonesian rafts transported cinnamon directly from the Moluccas to East Africa (see also Rhapta), where local traders then carried it north to Alexandria in Egypt. Venetian traders from Italy held a monopoly on the spice trade in Europe, distributing cinnamon from Alexandria. The disruption of this trade by the rise of other Mediterranean powers, such as the Mamluk sultans and the Ottoman Empire, was one of many factors that led Europeans to search more widely for other routes to Asia.
When Portuguese traders landed in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), they restructured the traditional production and management of cinnamon by the Sinhalese. They established a fort on the island in 1518 and protected Ceylon as their cinnamon monopoly for over 100 years. Later, Sinhalese held the monopoly for cinnamon in Ceylon.
Dutch traders finally dislodged the Portuguese by allying with the inland Kingdom of Kandy. They established a trading post in 1638, took control of the manufactories by 1640, and expelled the remaining Portuguese by 1658. "The shores of the island are full of it," a Dutch captain reported, "and it is the best in all the Orient. When one is downwind of the island, one can still smell cinnamon eight leagues out to sea." :15 The Dutch East India Company continued to overhaul the methods of harvesting in the wild and eventually began to cultivate its own trees.
During the 1500s, the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan was searching for spices and in the Philippines found Cinnamomum mindanaense which was closely related to C. zeylanicum, the cinnamon found in Sri Lanka. This cinnamon eventually competed with Sri Lankan cinnamon, which was controlled by the Portuguese.
In 1767, Lord Brown of the British East India Company established Anjarakkandy Cinnamon Estate near Anjarakkandy in Cannanore (now Kannur) district of Kerala, and this estate became Asia's largest cinnamon estate. The British took control of Ceylon from the Dutch in 1796. However, the importance of the monopoly of Ceylon was already declining, as cultivation of the cinnamon tree spread to other areas, the more common cassia bark became more acceptable to consumers, and coffee, tea, sugar, and chocolate began to outstrip the popularity of traditional spices.
Aggregate annual production of cinnamon and cassia amounts to 27,500–35,000 tons, worldwide. Of this, C. verum accounts for 7,500–10,000 tons of production, with the remainder produced by other species. Sri Lanka produces 80–90% of the world's supply of C. verum, but that is the only species grown there; C. verum is also cultivated on a commercial scale in Seychelles and Madagascar. Global production of the other species averages 20,000–25,000 tons, of which Indonesia produces around two-thirds of the total, with significant production in China. India and Vietnam are also minor producers.
Cinnamon is cultivated by growing the tree for two years, then coppicing it, i.e., cutting the stems at ground level. The following year, about a dozen new shoots form from the roots, replacing those that were cut. A number of pests such as Colletotrichum gloeosporioides, Diplodia spp., and Phytophthora cinnamomi (stripe canker) can affect that growing plants, sometimes leading to death.
The stems must be processed immediately after harvesting while the inner bark is still wet. The cut stems are processed by scraping off the outer bark, then beating the branch evenly with a hammer to loosen the inner bark, which is then pried off in long rolls. Only 0.5 mm (0.02 in) of the inner bark is used; the outer, woody portion is discarded, leaving metre-long cinnamon strips that curl into rolls ("quills") on drying. The processed bark dries completely in four to six hours, provided it is in a well-ventilated and relatively warm environment. Once dry, the bark is cut into 5- to 10-cm (2- to 4-in) lengths for sale. A less than ideal drying environment encourages the proliferation of pests in the bark, which may then require treatment by fumigation. Fumigated bark is not considered to be of the same premium quality as untreated bark.
Sri Lanka cinnamon has a very thin, smooth bark with a light-yellowish brown colour and a highly fragrant aroma. In recent years in Sri Lanka, mechanical devices have been developed to ensure premium quality and worker safety and health, following considerable research by the universities in that country, led by the University of Ruhuna.
The Sri Lankan grading system divides the cinnamon quills into four groups:
- Alba, less than 6 mm (0.24 in) in diameter
- Continental, less than 16 mm (0.63 in) in diameter
- Mexican, less than 19 mm (0.75 in) in diameter
- Hamburg, less than 32 mm (1.3 in) in diameter
These groups are further divided into specific grades. For example, Mexican is divided into M00 000 special, M000000, and M0000, depending on quill diameter and number of quills per kilogram.
Any pieces of bark less than 106 mm (4.2 in) long are categorized as quillings. Featherings are the inner bark of twigs and twisted shoots. Chips are trimmings of quills, outer and inner bark that cannot be separated, or the bark of small twigs.
A number of species are often sold as cinnamon:
- Cinnamomum cassia (cassia or Chinese cinnamon, the most common type)
- C. burmannii (Korintje, Padang cassia, or Indonesian cinnamon)
- C. loureiroi (Saigon cinnamon, Vietnamese cassia, or Vietnamese cinnamon)
- C. verum (Sri Lanka cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon)
- C. citriodorum (Malabar cinnamon)
- C. tamale (Indian cinnamon)
Cassia is the strong, spicy flavour associated with cinnamon rolls and other such baked goods, as it handles baking conditions well. Chinese cinnamon is generally a medium to light reddish brown, hard and woody in texture, and thicker (2–3 mm (0.079–0.118 in) thick), as all of the layers of bark are used. Ceylon cinnamon, using only the thin inner bark, has a lighter brown colour, a finer, less dense and more crumbly texture, and is considered to be subtler and more aromatic in flavour than cassia, losing much of its flavour during cooking.
The barks of the species are easily distinguished when whole, both in macroscopic and microscopic characteristics. Ceylon cinnamon sticks (quills) have many thin layers and can easily be made into powder using a coffee or spice grinder, whereas cassia sticks are much harder. Indonesian cinnamon is often sold in neat quills made up of one thick layer, capable of damaging a spice or coffee grinder. Saigon cinnamon (C. loureiroi) and Chinese cinnamon (C. cassia) are always sold as broken pieces of thick bark, as the bark is not supple enough to be rolled into quills. The powdered bark is harder to distinguish, but if it is treated with tincture of iodine (a test for starch), little effect is visible with pure Ceylon cinnamon, but when Chinese cinnamon is present, a deep-blue tint is produced.
Flavour, aroma, and taste
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 the whole. It is of a golden-yellow colour, with the characteristic odour of cinnamon and a very hot aromatic taste. The pungent taste and scent come from cinnamaldehyde (about 90% of the essential oil from the bark) and, by reaction with oxygen as it ages, it darkens in colour and forms resinous compounds. Other chemical components of the essential oil include ethyl cinnamate, eugenol (found mostly in the leaves), beta-caryophyllene, linalool, and methyl chavicol.
Cinnamon bark is used as a spice. It is principally employed in cookery as a condiment and flavouring material. 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 pie, doughnuts, and cinnamon buns, as well as spicy candies, coffee, tea, hot cocoa, and liqueurs. In the Middle East, cinnamon is often used in savoury dishes of chicken and lamb. In the United States, cinnamon and sugar are often used to flavour cereals, bread-based dishes, such as toast, and fruits, especially apples; a cinnamon-sugar mixture is even sold separately for such purposes. It is also used in Turkish cuisine for both sweet and savoury dishes. Cinnamon can also be used in pickling. Cinnamon powder has long been an important spice in enhancing the flavour of Persian cuisine, used in a variety of thick soups, drinks, and sweets.:10–12
Use as an alcohol flavourant
Cinnamon brandy concoctions, called "cinnamon liqueur" and made with distilled alcohol, are popular in parts of Greece. In Europe, popular examples of such beverages are Maiwein (white wine with woodruff) and Żubrówka (vodka flavoured with bison grass).
The European Food Safety Authority in 2008 considered toxicity of coumarin, known to cause liver and kidney damage in high concentrations and a significant component of cinnamon, and metabolic effect on humans with CYP2A6 polymorphism, and confirmed a maximum recommended tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 0.1 mg of coumarin per kg of body weight. The European Union set a guideline for maximum coumarin content in foodstuffs of 50 mg per kg of dough in seasonal foods, and 15 mg per kg in everyday baked foods.
According to the maximum recommended TDI of 0.1 mg of coumarin per kg of body weight, which is 5 mg of coumarin for a body weight of 50 kg:
|Cinnamomum cassia||Cinnamomum verum|
|milligrams of coumarin/kilograms of cinnamon||100 mg - 12,180 mg/kg||less than 100 mg/kg|
|milligrams of coumarin/grams of cinnamon||0.10 mg - 12.18 mg/g||less than 0.10 mg/g|
|TDI cinnamon at 50 kg body weight||0.4 g - 50 g||more than 50 g|
Note: Due to the unpredictable amount of coumarin in C. cassia, usually well over 1,000 mg of coumarin per kg of cinnamon and sometimes up to 12 times that, C. cassia has a very low safe intake level to adhere to the above TDI.
Ten grams (about 2 teaspoons) of ground cinnamon contain:
- Energy: 103.4 kJ (24.7 kcal)
- Fat: 0.12 g
- Carbohydrates: 8.06 g (of which - fibres: 5.31 g, sugars: 0.2 g)
- Protein: 0.4 g