|Cinnamon foliage and flowers|
Cinnamon foliage and flowers
Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum, synonym C. zeylanicum) is a small evergreen tree 10-15 meters (32.8-49.2 feet) tall, belonging to the family Lauraceae, native to Sri Lanka and South India. The bark is widely used as a spice due to its distinct odour. In India it is also known as "Daalchini". The leaves are ovate-oblong in shape, 7-18 cm (2.75-7.1 inches) long. The flowers, which are arranged in panicles, have a greenish color, and have a distinct odor. The fruit is a purple one-centimetre berry containing a single seed.
Its flavour is due to an aromatic essential oil which makes up 0.5 to 1% of its composition. This 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 cinnamic aldehyde or cinnamaldehyde and, by the absorption of oxygen as it ages, it darkens in colour and develops resinous compounds. Chemical components of the essential oil include ethyl cinnamate, eugenol, cinnamaldehyde, beta-caryophyllene, linalool and methyl chavicol.
The name cinnamon comes from Greek kinnámōmon, from Phoenician and akin to Hebrew qinnâmôn, itself ultimately from a Malaysian language, cf. Malay and Indonesian kayu manis which means sweet wood.
Cinnamon has been known from remote antiquity, and it was so highly prized among ancient nations that it was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and other great potentates. It was imported to Egypt from China as early as 2000 BC, and is mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 30:23, where Moses is commanded to use both sweet cinnamon (Hebrew קִנָּמוֹן, qinnāmôn) and cassia, and in Proverbs 7:17-18, where the lover's bed is perfumed with myrrh, aloe and cinnamon. It is also alluded to by Herodotus and other classical writers. It was commonly used on funeral pyres in Rome, and the Emperor Nero is said to have burned a year's supply of cinnamon at the funeral for his wife Poppaea Sabina, in 65 AD.
In the Middle Ages, the source of cinnamon was a mystery to the Western world. Arab traders brought the spice via overland trade routes to Alexandria in Egypt, where it was bought by Venetian traders from Italy who held a monopoly on the spice trade in Europe. The disruption of this trade by the rise of other Mediterranean powers such as the Mameluks Sultans and the Ottoman Empire was one of many factors that led Europeans to search more widely for other routes to Asia.
Portuguese traders finally discovered Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the end of the fifteenth century, and restructured the traditional production of cinnamon by the salagama caste. The Portuguese established a fort on the island in 1518, and protected their own monopoly for over a hundred years.
Dutch traders finally dislodged the Portuguese by allying with the inland Ceylon kingdom of Kandy. They established a trading post in 1638, took control of the factories by 1640, and expelled all 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" (Braudel 1984, p. 215).
The Dutch East India Company continued to overhaul the methods of harvesting in the wild, and eventually began to cultivate its own trees.
The British took control of the island 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.
According to FAO, Indonesia produced almost 40% of the world cinnamon (canella) output in 2005 followed by China, India and Vietnam.
Cinnamon is harvested by growing the tree for two years and then coppicing it. The next year a dozen or so shoots will form from the roots. These shoots are then stripped of their bark which is left to dry. Only the thin (0.5 mm) inner bark is used; the outer woody portion is removed, leaving metre long cinnamon strips that curl into rolls ("quills") on drying; each dried quill comprises strips from numerous shoots packed together. These quills are then cut to 5-10 cm long pieces for sale.
Cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka, and the tree is also grown commercially at Tellicherry in southern India, Java, Sumatra, the West Indies, Brazil, Vietnam, Madagascar, Zanzibar, and Egypt. Sri Lanka cinnamon is a very thin smooth bark, with a light-yellowish brown colour, a highly fragrant aroma.
Cinnamon and cassia
The name cinnamon is correctly used to refer to Ceylon Cinnamon, also known as "true cinnamon" (from the botanical name C. verum). However, the related species Cassia (Cinnamomum aromaticum) and Cinnamomum burmannii are sometimes sold labeled as cinnamon, sometimes distinguished from true cinnamon as "Indonesian cinnamon" or, at least for Cassia, "Bastard cinnamon". Ceylon cinnamon, using only the thin inner bark, has a finer, less dense and more crumbly texture, and is considered to be less strong than cassia. Cassia is generally a medium to light reddish brown, is hard and woody in texture, and is thicker (2-3 mm thick), as all of the layers of bark are used. All of the powdered cinnamon sold in supermarkets in the United States is actually Cassia. In the United States, true cinnamon is available commercially only in stick form. European health agencies have recently warned against consuming high amounts of cassia, due to a toxic component called coumarin. This is contained in much lower dosages in Ceylon cinnamon and in Cinnamomum burmannii. Coumarin is known to cause liver and kidney damage in high concentrations.
The two barks when whole are easily distinguished, and their microscopic characteristics are also quite distinct. Cinnamon sticks (or quills) have many thin layers and can easily be made into powder using a coffee or spice grinder whereas cassia sticks are much harder, made up of one thick layer, capable of damaging a spice or coffee grinder. It is a bit harder to tell powdered cinnamon from powdered cassia. When powdered bark is treated with tincture of iodine (a test for starch), little effect is visible in the case of pure cinnamon of good quality, but when cassia is present a deep-blue tint is produced, the intensity of the coloration depending on the proportion of cassia.
Cinnamon bark is widely used as a spice. It is principally employed in cookery as a condiment and flavouring material, being largely used in the preparation of some kinds of desserts, chocolate, spicy candies, tea, hot cocoa and liqueurs. In the Middle East, it 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, and fruits, especially apples; a cinnamon-sugar mixture is even sold separately for such purposes. Cinnamon can also be used in pickling. Cinnamon bark is one of the few spices which can be consumed directly.
In medicine it acts like other volatile oils and once had a reputation as a cure for colds. It has also been used to treat diarrhea and other problems of the digestive system. Cinnamon is high in antioxidant activity (PMID 16190627, PMID 10077878). The essential oil of cinnamon also has antimicrobial properties (PMID 16104824), which aid in the preservation of certain foods.
In the media, "cinnamon" has been reported to have remarkable pharmacological effects in the treatment of type II diabetes. However, the plant material used in the study (PMID 14633804) was actually cassia, as opposed to true cinnamon (see cassia's medicinal uses for more information about its health benefits). Cinnamon has traditionally been used to treat toothache and fight bad breath and its regular use is believed to stave off common cold and aid digestion.
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- Medicinal Seasonings, The Healing Power Of Spices Book by Dr. Keith Scott*
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