For more than a thousand years, the cinnamon stick has held the world under its power of scent and natural and medicinal goodness. It is just bark. Today, cinnamon is used all over the world as an aromatic condiment, a flavoring ingredient, and powerful medicine that has a lot of healing properties. It is also used to make fragrances. This article is for those who love to know the amazing history of cinnamon.
Cinnamon is made from the dried bark of a tree in the Lauraceae family. The tree is called C. zeylanicum. Many interesting things can be found when we find out about the history of cinnamon. There has been a lot of cinnamon in the world since about 2800 BC, when it was called “kwai” in Chinese texts.
This “divine herb” was kept secret by ancient Arab traders to keep their monopoly and justify its high price. They made up stories about how hard it was to get cinnamon and how rare it was. In a script written by the Greek historian Herodotus, he talks about a story like this one. Large birds carried the cinnamon sticks to their nests on top of mountains that were too high for humans to get to, the story says. People used to leave large pieces of ox meat near these nests for the birds to pick up. Because of the weight of the meat, the nests would fall to the ground, which would let the cinnamon sticks inside be found.
Greek, Roman, and Egyptian
when talking about the history of cinnamon we can’t forget Greek and Roman. Many Greek and Roman writers used cinnamon in their works during the Classical and Post-Classical eras, which is when they wrote. People like Pliny the Elder, Herodotus, and Sappho all wrote about the subject. Cinnamon is a favorite ingredient in incense because of both its smell and its price. The Greeks and the Egyptians also used it in cooking and also made incense with it. When the Egyptians made their mummies, they also put the spice on them, as per usual. As a part of his anointing oil, Moses used cinnamon in ancient Rome.
As a shred of evidence…
Cinnamon is even in the Bible. It was used in Roman funerals, which may have been a way to get rid of the smell of dead bodies. When Emperor Nero’s wife died, it’s said that he burned a year’s worth of the dry cinnamon that he kept in a jar at her funeral. Ancient Egyptians used it to keep mummies alive because of its pleasant smell and ability to keep things alive.
“Your robes are redolent of myrrh, aloeswood, and Kasia [cassia]; harps entertain you in halls of ivory; princesses are among your waiting-women.”
When the Bible was put together in the fifth century, this quote came from the 45th psalm. The rest of the Bible was also put together at that time (the content itself is about 1000 years older). Even earlier references to cinnamon, which is sometimes called “cassia,” show up in texts that are farther south, in Northern Africa. The Egyptian word for cinnamon and camphor, ty-sps, is used in texts that date back to the early 2000s BCE. People in China used cinnamon at least 200 years ago. It’s more likely that this was the Chinese word for “cassia,” not the name of a plant that grows in Indonesia or India.
Cinnamon was a valuable spice in the western world from the 14th to the 15th centuries. It was used to keep meat fresh and stop bacteria from growing. During the 15th century, people were looking for cinnamon, which led to a lot of people traveling around the world to find it. It was only made in Ceylon or Sri Lanka at that time. Anyone who had control over the supply flow would have made a lot of money. A group of Portuguese traders came to Ceylon in the 15th century. They took the natives as slaves and took over the trade from the Arabs.
Soon, the Dutch took over from the Portuguese and took over the cinnamon monopoly. A lot of work was done by the Dutch to increase the amount of food they made. They domesticated crops and made them bigger in the areas where they had control. Because of that, cinnamon farms were moved to the western and southern coasts of the island, where they thrived. Since 1815, the British have been in charge of the island. They also took over the cinnamon trade. By this point, spices were becoming less important in the world market because of the rise of plantation crops like tea and rubber. This limited the growth of cinnamon.
For a long time, Europeans were always trying to find the country where cinnamon was grown when the traditional “Cinnamon Route” from Indonesia was blocked by rising Mediterranean powers, such as the Mamluk Sultans. If you’ve been to the Cinnamon Route from Indonesia to East Africa, you may have seen traders from Indonesia selling cinnamon in Roman markets. This led to a Venetian Cinnamonmonopoly in Europe.
In Western Europe, cinnamon was used in both food and medicine when it wasn’t poured over the dishes of rich people. Cinnamon is often used to make “medicinal” wine and other spiced drinks. It was one of the most important ingredients in a rich kitchen, along with ginger and pepper.
Spices, Essential Oils, and Oleoresins in Sri Lanka – EDB Sri Lanka (srilankabusiness.com)
Cinnamon – Dept. of Export Agriculture (dea.gov.lk)
Cinnamon: A Very Brief History | The Spice Academy
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