Warm shades of red married to brown hits my eyes, and allures my nose exotic adventure in forgotten, overgrown kingdoms – Cinnamon Dreams by Joseph Kushnir

 A peacock flew among the cinnamon bushes as we embarked on an exploration of the lush plantation, atop the Mirissa Hills. Surrounded by fauna and flora and soaring above the Weligama Bay, the sixty acre property is a tropical paradise within the paradise isle.

Within the plantation is the sprawling villa belonging to Miles Young, Warden of New College, Oxford in England. As an expert in the subject of all things Cinnamon, he has solicited the assistance of the veteran Tea Maestro, Herman Gunaratne to overlook the property which has the villa, a converted old manor house and a museum which will be open for viewing soon. The unique aspect of the museum are its rare cinnamon infused artefacts, in addition to a café and other amenities. As an expert in the field of Cinnamon, Miles along with Herman intend to give an immersive experience of the rich legacy and future prospects of Ceylon Cinnamon.

It was at this breathtakingly beautiful location that is steeped in mystery and romance and famed for its luxurious feel and elegance as it celebrates the Cinnamon, a spice which was once valued as highly as gold that I had the honour of meeting the iconic Herman Gunaratne, a man with impeccable tastes and a legend in the tea industry, having been appointed as the Chairman of the Upcountry Division in charge of 100,000 acres of tea. Renowned for his expertise and his association with the plantation Raj as interestingly depicted in his memoirs, ‘The Suicide Club’ and the subsequent books, ‘The Plantation Raj,’ ‘The Tortured Island,’ ‘For a Sovereign State,’ and ‘God’s Secret Agent’, Herman himself brings with him a wealth of knowledge, charisma and expertise in promulgating the spice. As he stated, “Cinnamon was the cause of many battles in the ancient world and Ceylon, with its abundance of verdant cinnamon bushes being the cynosure of all eyes. One of the most memorable moments of my career was a brief rendezvous with Lord Louis Mountbatten – the South East Asian Commander for all Allied  forces who admitted that Ceylon was considered to be the most prized possession of the British Empire due to its cinnamon followed subsequently by tea”.

The spice was sent to Egypt and re-exported to flummox the buyers as its origin was jealously guarded and rightly so. In keeping with the enigma surrounding cinnamon was another myth of a bird called, ‘Cinnamologus,’ who according to legend made its nests from cinnamon sticks.

While its source was kept a mystery by the traders to their source, today it is well known that Cinnamon came from the pearl of the Indian Ocean – Ceylon – the birth place of Cinnamon.

Ancient hieroglyphics and other inscriptions prove that Ceylon Cinnamon has been a valuable commodity for centuries. It was particularly prized for its health in the Middle East. Ancient Egyptians used it as long ago as 2000 BC and even the Bible makes mention of Cinnamon in proverb 7:17 when it says “I have sprinkled my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon “. “In Exodus, 30:23, God directed Moses to make a holy anointing oil composed of myrrh, SWEET CINNAMON, Kaneh-bosem, cassia, and olive oil.  “And you shall make of these a sacred anointing oil blended as by the perfumer; it shall be a holy anointing oil,” is a reference in the Bible of a period in time dating back to four millennia.

Cinnamon was a component of the Ketoret which is used when referring to the consecrated incense described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud. It was offered on the specialized incense altar in the time when the Tabernacle was located in the First and Second Jerusalem Temples. The ketoret was an important component of the Temple service in Jerusalem. It was so highly prized among ancient nations that it was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and even for God: a fine inscription records the gift of cinnamon and cassia to the temple of Apollo at Miletus. It is also alluded to the Herodotus and other classical writers.

Though it was too expensive to be commonly used on funeral pyres in Rome, the narcissist Emperor Nero is said to have burned a year’s worth of the city’s supply at the funeral for his wife Poppaea Sabina in AD 65.

Prior to the founding of Cairo, Alexandria was the Mediterranean shipping port of cinnamon. Europeans who knew the Latin writers who were quoting Herodotus knew that cinnamon came up the Red Sea to the trading ports of Egypt.

Through the Middle Ages, the source of cinnamon was a mystery to the Western world. Herodotus and other authors assumed Arabia was the source of cinnamon and claimed that giant Cinnamon birds collected the cinnamon sticks from an unknown land where the cinnamon trees grew and used them to construct their nests and the Arabs employed a trick to obtain the sticks. This story was current as late as 1310 in Byzantium, although in the first century, Pliny the Elder had written that the traders had made this up in order to charge more.

The first mention of the spice growing in Ceylon was in Zakariya al-Qazwini’s Athar al-bilad wa-akhbar al-‘ibad (“Monument of Places and History of God’s Bondsmen”) in about 1270.This was followed shortly thereafter by John of Montecorvino, in a letter of about 1292. Indonesian rafts transported cinnamon (known in Indonesia as kayu manis- literally “sweet wood”) on a “cinnamon route” directly from the Moluccas to East Africa, where local traders then carried it north to the Roman market.

Arab traders brought the spice via overland trade routes to Alexandria in Egypt, where it was bought by Venetian traders from Italy who held a monopoly on the spice trade in Europe. The disruption of this trade by the rise of other Mediterranean powers, such as the Mamluk Sultans and the Ottoman Empire, was one of many factors that led Europeans to search more widely for other routes to Asia.

The botanical name derives from the Hebraic and Arabic term amomon, meaning fragrant spice plant. From their word for cannon, Italians called it canella, meaning “little tube,” which aptly describes cinnamon sticks.

In the first century A.D., Pliny the Elder wrote off 350 grams of cinnamon as being equal in value to over five kilograms of silver, about fifteen times the value of silver per weight.

A spice worth fighting for-

Portuguese traders finally landed in Ceylon at the beginning of the sixteenth century and restructured the traditional production and management of cinnamon by the natives. The Portuguese established a fort on the island in 1518 and protected their own monopoly for over a hundred years.

In the 17th century, the Dutch seized the world’s largest cinnamon supplier, the island of Ceylon, from the Portuguese, demanding outrageous quotas from the poor laboring Chalia caste. 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. They established a trading post in 1638, took control of the factories by 1640, and expelled all remaining Portuguese by 1658. “The shores of the island are full of it”, a Dutch captain reported, “and it is the best in all the Orient: when one is downwind of the island, one can still smell cinnamon eight leagues out to sea.” The Dutch East India Company continued to overhaul the methods of harvesting in the wild and eventually began to cultivate its own trees.

The British took control of the island from the Dutch in 1796. However, the importance of the monopoly of Ceylon was already declining, as cultivation of the cinnamon tree spread to other areas and the more common cassia bark became more acceptable to consumers, and coffee, tea, sugar, and chocolate began to outstrip the popularity of traditional spices. Source: Wikipedia

Health properties

The vast spectrum pertaining to cinnamon is broad as it is wide and includes the medicinal properties that alleviate many illnesses. 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 has not lost its lustre even in todays illness ravaged world as it is a natural remedy against many diseases. For instance an element in cinnamon is believed to mimic insulin which reduces the blood sugar level which is a natural remedy for sufferers of type 2 diabetes.

Ceylon Cinnamon is gaining global prominence once again as many have recognized the amazing health properties of Ceylon Cinnamon. The composition of Ceylon Cinnamon is of much higher quality especially the essential oils derived from the Ceylon Cinnamon Bark as well as the leaves of the tree. It is also considered an aphrodisiac.

In comparison, the Cassia Cinnamon which is produced in other countries has high levels of Coumarin which can damage the liver.

 Regions of growth

The best Ceylon Cinnamon is grown in the south west corner of Sri Lanka starting from Ambalangoda, Hikkaduwa down to Matara as the climate makes it ideal for propagation.

The Ceylon Cinnamon farms are still owned by small holders. This is the legacy of the Dutch who divided the land into small plots, so the locals would cultivate and sell them the Cinnamon. Since large scale Ceylon Cinnamon farms are limited, the use of pesticide is very limited even though the Ceylon Cinnamon tree does get affected by blight.

Cinnamon farmers usually sell the Ceylon Cinnamon bark and the dried leaves to a processor in the village, who in turn peels it and makes the Cinnamon sticks.

Once the Cinnamon is processed it is sold to traders who either export it or distribute it locally. Many of the processors have limited Cinnamon cultivation of their own but they do serve a valuable function in bringing the product to market and developing value added products from Cinnamon.

Quality Control

The Sri Lanka government is attempting to reform the industry. In order to do this they have set up a Cinnamon research Station in close proximity to the coastal city of Matara. The research involves the development of new breeds of Cinnamon to increase the quality and oil content. This is not genetic modification or a GMO. These are Cinnamon plants that have been cross bred to produce a stronger plant. The research station has also developed new tools and chairs to make peeling Cinnamon easier. They have also a training facility where students are taught how to peel Ceylon Cinnamon. In addition the Sri Lankan government has introduced new standards for Cinnamon exports called SLS-81 standards which aims to set bench marks for quality.

 

 

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