Cinnamon is one of the oldest species and has been around since 2000 B.C. It was once more expensive than gold. In addition to using it for food, it was used by the Egyptians as a perfume when embalming as a food preservative. Romans used it in funeral pyres to mask the smell of burning flesh. It was also then, and today used for health purposes. Cinnamon is also mentioned in the Old Testament as an anointing oil.
As cinnamon spread through Europe, they were aware it was shipped from the Red Sea into the ports of Egypt. But exactly where it came from was a mystery. The Egyptians wanted to monopolize the origin and told wild tales about the source to keep it scarce and justify the high price.
However, in 1518 the Portuguese located cinnamon in Ceylon at which point they conquered the island of Kotto and enslaved the inhabitants in order to monopolize the cinnamon trade.
It worked until the inhabitants and Dutch took control of the area in 1638. The people once again became beholden to the Dutch who kept the cinnamon trade for 150 years. It was the most profitable spice in the Dutch East India Company trade.
Although the British took Ceylon over in 1784, cinnamon had already been cultivated in other parts of the world and the monopoly was broken.
TYPES OF CINNAMON
For our purposes,sun dried we are going to stick with the four types of cinnamon that are commercially used in food. Cinnamon and cassia are often confused. There are four types of cinnamon used for food commercially. While each delivers on the taste of cinnamon, they each have their own characteristics. Only one cinnamon is considered to be the “true” cinnamon. The other three are considered cassia and are often lumped together although they should not be as each has its own characteristics, taste and color.
The bark is sun-dried. As it dries it curls into what we call cinnamon sticks but the more formal name is cinnamon quills. It can be ground to a powder form or left whole to infuse its flavor into liquids. The higher the essential oil content in the cinnamon the more intense the flavor.
“True” cinnamon comes from the bark of bushy evergreen trees from the laurel family native to Sri Lanka (Ceylon). It is also known as Ceylon cinnamon, the older name for Sri Lanka. It is said to be the sweetest and mildest tasting as well as the lightest in color. It is also the most expensive of the cinnamons. Ceylon cinnamon also has the lowest percentage of coumarin which is a substance that can harm your liver. However, it is almost impossible to ingest enough of any cinnamon to cause viable harm. It is also grown in India, Madagascar, Brazil and the Caribbean.
The next three cinnamons are often lumped together as cassia, which is not “true” cinnamon.
Cassia or Chinese cinnamon which comes from China also known as Tung Hing is mostly grown in China but also in Sri Lanka and Vietnam. This is known to be spicy, bitter and very intense.
Korintje cinnamon, also known as Indonesian cinnamon is also very intense and spicy but is smoother than Chinese Cinnamon. It is grown and harvested in Indonesia. It is the most imported cinnamon in the United states. It is widely used in bakeries because of its taste and lower cost. I used it in my bakery exclusively and still do today.
Vietnamese cinnamon, also referred to as Saigon cinnamon is grown in Vietnam. It is very high in volatile oil at 7% giving it a bold and robust flavor. It is also the highest in essential oil content. It is said to have a stronger flavor than the Korintje but I disagree here. After using Korintje cinnamon, I found the Vietnamese to lack the depth of flavor I found in the Korintje. It also very light in color and when baked, as in cinnamon rolls, they lack a dark brown color that is associated with the filling.
Today there is ongoing research into uses of cinnamon for a wide range of diseases including diabetes, digestive disorders, respiratory tract infections as well as cancer.
In the end, which cinnamon you use is up to your taste. Most of the cinnamon on the shelves of grocery stores is of the cassia variety. However, specialty spice shops will, most likely, have most or all of the different types. I recently purchased two from Penzy’s and found I still like the Korintje cinnamon I used to buy in 10 pound boxes for use in the bakery.
Another thing to consider when using any spice or herb is to only buy what you can use in about six months. After that, the essential oils which provide the intense flavor will start to dissipate and the flavor will weaken. If they are to be kept longer, freeze them. I love cardamom but do not use it a lot so I store the bottle in the freezer where it stays fresh.
Research for this article came from the following:
COOKIE BOOK UPDATE
As mentioned earlier, I am working on a Cookie Book. In the future,, I will be sharing some of the photos or stories about the cookies. I was quite surprised recently, when I started filling in my progress chart to see how many I have that are already photographed and written.Here is the Coconut Macadamia Crisp. I just ate the last two and they were as good as the day I made them weeks ago.