Styled cinnamon stick mound with an aniseed flower

Cinnamony Tales

In deep canyons of the ancient world, guarded by terrifying, death-dealing snakes cinnamon lies waiting for brave hunters to come and carry them away.

                                    ~  Arab origin

Large eagles in ancient Greek carried to their nest rolled up fragrant sticks of unknown origins for their nest making. The ancient Greeks by chance got their hands on these sticks and that was it– let the coveting begin! One creative method that was employed was leaving huge chunks of ox meat at the base of the nests. When the birds carried them into their nest, the weight of the meat would cause the nests to fall off their insurmountable perches and allowed the Greeks to collect the sticks we have come to know as cinnamon sticks.

~ Herodotus, 5th Century Greek historian

For cinnamomum, or cinnamum, [sic] which is the same thing grows in the country of the [Ethiopians] which is linked in marriage with the Trogodytae….These last, after buying it of their neighbors, carry it over vast tracts of sea, upon rafts, which are neither steered by rudder, nor drawn or impelled by oars or sails, indeed no motive power at all but man alone and his courage….They say that their traders take almost five years there and back, and many die.*

~ Piny the Elder, 1st Century Roman philosopher

*The Ethiopians that Piny refers to are likely  Indians and the Trogodytae or cave-dwellers are the coastal Indians.

Plucked by eagles or guarded by flying snakes? Ancient people had their choice of fantastical tales on where the mysterious, highly prized cinnamon came from. Not surprisingly, most of these tall tales were spun by the cinnamon’s sole traders at the time- the Arabian merchants- who had every incentive to hold on tight to their lucrative monopoly by keeping the cinnamon’s place of origin a secret. Lucky for them, people of that period were inclined to such supernatural tales and lapped them up. And the exorbitant prices in tow.

Today, we know the cinnamon has less godly origins even though its effects are arguably superhuman. The cinnamon originated from Sri Lanka and cinnamon that comes from Sri Lanka are known as Ceylon Cinnamon (the nomenclature stuck from its British colonial days  from 1802-1948 as British Ceylon or just Ceylon.)

Cinnamon is one of the most beloved spices throughout history, mentioned in numerous cultures dating back as far as 2700 BC in a Chinese botanical medicinal manuscript. It was as popular back then as it is today. Cinnamon was a spice worthy to be offered as a gift to the royals and sacrifice to the gods. Today, after salt and black pepper, cinnamon is the third most popular spice in the world with wide-ranging uses that include medicinal, religious, nutritional, beauty, and gastronomical.

Cinnamon is the collective name for the various species in the genus Cinnamomum. Depending on where you live in the world, the species that are commercially popular and widely available will differ. For example, in the US and Canada, Cinnamomum aromaticum is readily sold, whereas in Mexico and most of Europe, Cinnamomum verum is the norm.

Even though there are hundreds of varieties of cinnamon, only four main types of cinnamon are commonly used for commercial purposes:

Common Name Scientific Name
Ceylon Cinnamon
True Cinnamon
Mexican Cinnamon
Cinnamomum Zeylanicum, Cinnamomum Verum
Indonesian Cinnamon
Korintje Cinnamon
Padang Cassia
Cinnamomum Burmanni
Saigon cinnamon
Vietnamese Cassia

Vietnamese Cinnamon
Cinnamomum Loureiroi
Cassia Cinnamon
Chinese Cinnamon
Cinnamomum Aromaticum

With the exception of Ceylon/True/Mexican Cinnamon, the other three types are very similar to each other in appearance, taste, and smell.

Ceylon Cinnamon sticks have thinner, softer, and more layers than the other cinnamon types which in contrast are thick, hard, and hollow with usually one rolled or curled layer. Additionally, Ceylon Cinnamon is lighter in color, a golden sepia shade, while the other cinnamons tend to be darker from shades of dark orange-brown to even gray.

Different Ceylon cinnamon forms- ground, stick, flakes
Ceylon Cinnamon