Wednesday, November 21, 2012
The aroma of cinnamon is unmistakable. If you have ever awakened to the delicious fragrance of baking cinnamon rolls, you have a tree to thank.
Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the inner bark of evergreen trees in the genus Cinnamomum. Native to southeast Asia, most particularly Ceylon (Sri Lanka), cinnamon is also grown in South America and the West Indies.
Cinnamon trees have a productive life span of about 40 to 50 years.
Beginning when they are about three years old, their bark is harvested twice a year immediately after the rainy seasons when the soaked bark can be more easily stripped away. Cinnamon peeling is a highly skilled technique handed down from ancient times. After the outer bark is scraped away, branches are beaten to loosen the thin inner bark, which is then pried out in long strips that curl into rolls or “quills” as they dry. Quills are cut into two- to four-inch lengths for sale.
Cinnamon has been a sought after commodity since 2000 BC. The Bible mentions it several times, beginning when Moses was commanded to use sweet cinnamon in the holy anointing oil.
Cinnamon was once so highly prized that bitter wars were fought over it, and it was a currency more valuable than silver. To show remorse for murdering his wife, the Roman Emperor Nero is said to have ordered an entire year’s supply of cinnamon burned at her funeral.
Ancient Egyptians used cinnamon for embalming. Its preservative qualities are due to phenols, which inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause decay.
Medieval doctors used cinnamon to treat coughing, hoarseness and sore throats. Home remedies dispensed cinnamon to treat diarrhea and morning sickness, and cinnamon oil to ease toothaches. Recent studies suggest that cinnamon may reduce high blood pressure and help regulate blood sugar levels.
Cinnamon is widely used to flavor sweet treats and the savory foods of Middle Eastern cuisine. In Mexico, cinnamon tea is a popular beverage. Cinnamon is used in pickling. Its extract is used in the preparation of chocolate and liqueurs and its oil is the base of some perfumes, toothpastes and soaps.
Beekeepers sprinkle cinnamon to keep ants out of hives and cinnamon oil has been found effective at killing mosquito larvae. Tallow from the cinnamon tree’s fruit is used to make fragrant candles.