Real cinnamon is Cinnamomum Zeylanicum and Sri Lanka produces ninety per cent of the world’s supply. This has been the case from historical times.

The History of true cinnamon and cassia

Cinnamomum zeylanicum, dates back in Chinese writings to 2800 B.C., and is still known as kwai in the Chinese language today. Its botanical name derives from the Hebraic and Arabic term amomon, meaning fragrant spice plant. Ancient Egyptians used cinnamon in their embalming process. From their word for cannon, Italians called it canella, meaning "little tube," which aptly describes cinnamon sticks.

As documented by U.M Senanayake and R.O.B Wijesekera Cinnamon and Cassia are two of the oldest spices known to man. Their usage as the queen of spice has been recorded even in biblical times. There are numerous accounts of their romantic and interesting history which played a pre-eminent role in the world trade.

In the first century A.D., Pliny the Elder wrote that 350 grams of cinnamon as being equal in value to over five kilograms of silver, about fifteen times the value of silver per weight. Besides its use as a spice, cinnamon became inextricably linked with the rituals of the times. In the first century in Rome, though cinnamon was such a luxury item, the Emperor Nero is said to have burnt a year's supply of the spice as a measure of his grief, at the funeral rights of his queen Poppea.

Medieval physicians used cinnamon in medicines to treat coughing, hoarseness and sore throats. The spice was also valued for its preservative qualities for meat due to the phenols which inhibit the  bacteria responsible for spoilage, with the added bonus being the strong cinnamon aroma masked the stench of aged meats.

Cinnamon and Cassia were among the most sought after spices during the global explorations of the sixteenth century. The Portuguese explorer Vas co da Gamma who came in search of the spice trade, was one who had a significant impact on the history of the South Asian world. Prior to this Arabian nations played a leading role in the Cinnamon trade. They used the overland route to take these spices to the Indian subcontinent, then to the Middle East, and finally to Europe.

Cassia, which is botanically different from cinnamon, had been cultivated in China since antiquity, and is referred to in ancient Chinese texts as far back as 2700 BC. However the use of Cassia remained in the far eastern region, and the Cinnamon originated in Sri Lanka became the "true cinnamon" of commerce in the rest of the world.

The Portuguese were the first modern Europeans to trade in true Cinnamon from Sri Lanka, and due to the trade of true cinnamon they were soon overtaken by the Dutch through the Dutch East India Company. In the 17th century, the Dutch seized the world's largest cinnamon supplier, the island of Ceylon, from the Portuguese. When the Dutch learned of a source of cinnamon along the coast of India, they bribed and threatened the local king to destroy it all, thus preserving their monopoly on the prized spice. Systematic cultivation of cinnamon in Sri Lanka was commenced by the Dutch, and by the time the British took over the country there were an estimated 15,000-16,000 hectares under cultivation, mainly along the western coastal belt of the island.

After World War II Sri Lanka continued to be the leading producer of "True cinnamon" in the world whilst China and the far eastern countries produced Cassia in bulk.


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