Ceylon cinnamon: the spice

Ceylon Cinnamon also known as true cinnamon is a kind of tree that is evergreen. One can find fresh leaves on the tree all round the year. It belongs to the family Laureceae. The tree is native to Sri Lanka and also the spices obtained from the bark of this tree. The relation of this tree with Sri Lanka can simply be gauged by the fact that it bears the name that was at one time former name of Sri Lanka.

History - This tree has been existent in the society for quite long and thus it is important to know about its history. The Old Testament mentioning about this spice at several places successfully proves its antiquity. Some of the instances where one can find this spice being mentioned are as follows:

• Initially it is where when a command was given to Moses to make use of Cassia and sweet cinnamon in holy anointing oil.
• Many proverbs are present that makes use of it.
• In Song of Solomon where this species is particularly used as a scent for clothes and compared to smell of Lebanon.

Not just this but in the history it was considered as best gift that people used to gift to monarchs and even God. One reason behind this was the high price of the product at that point of time.

It is known that this spice was imported to Egypt around 2000 B.C. but over there many people used to get confused between it and other related species known as Cassia. Cassia was produced in China and it was very common for normal people to get confused between these two closely related species.

In Rome this expensive plant was used to on funeral pyres. But it was too expensive that people just could not afford it. In A.D. 65 an emperor called Nero burned this plant on the funeral of his wife.

Though the plant was highly popular in different parts of the world but the origin of this plant was not known to them for many years. The origin of the plant was kept secretive from people in the Mediterranean world for many centuries. This was considered as a monopoly of the traders who used to supply this spice. People in Europe knew that this plant came up to the trading ports of Egypt but they did not know whether it came from Ethiopia or somewhere else.

Many authors considered that it came from Arabia. They thought that cinnamon birds used to carry cinnamon sticks from some unknown place and used to them to build their nest. But all these were mere predictions and no one was actually sure about the origin of this great plant.

All these stories came to an end in 1270. During this time Zakariya al-Qazwini mentioned about Sri Lanka as the origin of Ceylon cinnamon in Athar al-bilad wa-akhbar al-‘ibad.

At the end of sixteenth century, Portuguese landed at Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and had their own monopoly on the trade of this spices for around hundred years. After this Dutch traders came into scene and took over the monopoly in year 1638. By 1658 they were able to throw away all the Portuguese and had their control over all the factories producing this spice.

In 1796, British took over Dutch and started cultivating the product. But during this there was a sharp decline in the monopoly of this product as many other countries have also started growing it.

Current Market Position

In the present scenario, there are many countries that are growing this tree and undoubtedly Sri Lanka is the most popular of them. Other countries that are contributing equally in this area include India, Bangladesh, Zanzibar, Egypt, Brazil, Vietnam, the West Indies, Java and Sumatra.

In the current years, Singapore exports around 90 % of the total export share in the world. US also plays a major role in re-export of this product and exports the spices to countries like Mexico, Germany and Canada and accounts for 70 % of total exports in the world. India is also one of the prominent exporters in this area. But it has been seen that the amount of export is greater than the production. This clearly implies that the country re-exports some of the spices that it imports from other countries.

Vietnam is known to give a tough competition to other exporters in this area. It has been seen that since 1970 the share of Sri Lanka is declining in terms of percentage and not at all in actual quantity of the product.

When buying it

When you are buying Ceylon cinnamon, make sure you know the difference between this and other closely related species known as cassia. It has been seen that many traders fool around people by giving them cassia. At one hand where the former is highly beneficial to your health, on the other later can cause you some problems. The species cassia contains in it high amount of coumarin and thus should not be consumed regularly.

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