A Brief Introduction
Cinnamon is a small tropical evergreen tree which grows 10–15 meters (32.8–49.2 feet) tall, belonging to the family Lauraceae. The two main varieties of cinnamon are cinnamomum cassia and cinnamomum zeylanicum, grown widely in Sri Lanka, India, Java, Sumatra, the West Indies, Brazil, Vietnam and Madagascar. Its inner bark is widely used as a spice and there are as many as 250 different varieties are found across the globe. Due to its distinct odour, it is widely used as an important ingredient of many mouth watering dishes of the world.
The word cinnamon originates from the Greek word kinnámo-mon (meaning spice) and its botanical name ‘Cinnamomum Zeylanicum’, which is derived from Sri Lanka’s former name, Ceylon. People in West Asia were probably using cinnamon by about 1000 BC. In the Bible, it is being described as one of the spices used by Moses.
Because of its health benefits, aromatic properties and scarcity, cinnamon was more precious than gold in the ancient world. The commercial products of cinnamon are quills, quillings, featherings, chips, cinnamon bark oil and cinnamon leaf oil. Its flavour is due to an aromatic essential oil that makes up 0.5% to 1% of its composition.
Cinnamomum verum, a tropical evergreen tree, reaches a height of 8-17 m in the wild. It requires a warm and wet climate with no extremes of heat and cold. In an unharvested state, the trunk of a cinnamon plant is stout, 30-60 cm in diameter, with a thick, grey bark and the branches set low down. Cinnamon shrub are grown as bushes. Its leaves are stiffed, opposite and variable in their form and size. The young leaves of the flush are reddish, later turning dark green above with paler veins.
The petiole of cinnamon plant is usually 1-2 cm long while the size of lamina is generally 5-18 x 3-10 cm, ovate or elliptic; base more or less rounded and the tip tends to be somewhat acuminate.
The flowers, which are arranged in panicles, have a greenish color, and have a distinct odor. Fruit a fleshy ovoid drupe, black, 1.5-2 cm long when ripe, with the enlarged calyx at the base.
- Pliny the Elder, noted author, naturalist or natural philosopher of the first century A.D., 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
- Physicians belonding to the medieval period used cinnamon in medicines to treat various problems like coughing, hoarseness and sore throats
- In the 17th century, the Dutch seized the world’s largest cinnamon supplier, the island of Ceylon, from the Portuguese and established a system of cultivation that exists to this day
- In 1795, England seized Ceylon from the French, who had acquired it from their victory over Holland during the Revolutionary Wars
- However, by 1833, the downfall of the cinnamon monopoly had begun as its cultivation was started in other regions like Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Mauritius and Guyana
- Cinnamon is now also grown in South America, the West Indies, and other tropical climates.
Cinnamon oil is prepared by roughly pounding the bark, macerating it in seawater, and then quickly distilling the whole. It is of a golden-yellow colour, with the characteristic odour of cinnamon and a very hot aromatic taste. The major chemical components of the essential oil includes ethyl cinnamate, eugenol, cinnamaldehyde, beta-caryophyllene, linalool, and methyl chavicol.
Cinnamon oil possess many medicinal properties and there are many uses for it. It is often used as a stimulant in paralysis of the tongue, or to deaden the nerve in a toothache. It contains three active components of acetic acid and alcohol along with a wide range of volatile compounds that help in a wide variety of symptoms and health conditions.
Owing to its vast medicinal uses, cinnamon had found a prominent position in traditional medicines, especially in Ayurveda, the traditional healing system of India. It has been used in many cultures for treating a variety of health disorders including diarrhea, arthritis, menstrual cramps, heavy menstruation, yeast infections, colds, flu, and digestive problems. Being a rich source of magnesium, iron, and fibers, it is helpful in many ailments such as:
- It boosts the activity of the brain and hence acts as a good brain tonic
- It is helpful in removing blood impurities and is widely recommended by herbologist for the pimple treatment
- Cinnamon aids in the circulation of blood due to the presence of a blood thinning compound in it
- Due to the presence of antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral and antiseptic properties, it is highly effective on external as well as internal infections
- The cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon helps in preventing unwanted clumping of blood platelets
- Cinnamon has been found extremely useful in treating type 2 diabetes
- It is believed that the calcium and fiber contents in cinnamon provide protection against heart diseases
- It also improves the health of colon, thus, reducing the risk to colon cancer
- Regular consumption of cinnamon after child birth delays menstruation and thus helps in avoiding conception
- Cinnamon is very effective for indigestion, nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, diarrhea and flatulence
- Cinnamon is effective in providing relief from menstrual discomfort and cramping.
Culinary Uses of Cinnamon
- It is used in cookery as a condiment and flavoring material
- Cinnamon is extensively used in cakes and other baked goods, milk and rice puddings, chocolate dishes and fruit desserts, particularly apples and pears
- It is widely used as an aromatic spice in preparing curries and pilaus
- It may be used to spice mulled wines, creams and syrups
- It is a very good mouth freshener and is used in preparing chewing gums to stop bad breath
- It also finds uses in flavored cereals and fruits, especially in USA.
Use of Cinnamon in Religion
Besides being used as a spice and medicine, cinnamon is also used for some religious purposes. Some people believe that burning cinnamon in incense will promote high spirituality and aid in healing. Its essential oil is often seen spiritually as used for protection by many people across the globe.