According to legend, this spice was collected from an unknown land by giant birds who used it to construct their nests on sheer cliffs. What spice is it?
If you said cinnamon, you are correct! In what may be one of the earliest instances of clever marketing, it is speculated that Arabian traders made up the story to add to the mystique of the exotic spice so that they could charge more for it. The traders, who brought cinnamon and other exotic spices by overland routes to Alexandria in Egypt, kept the true source of the spices secret and made up outlandish stories about the difficulties of harvesting them to scare off adventurers. In the case of cinnamon, it was said that the birds were tricked into bringing large chunks of meat that were laid out for them back to their nests. The nests subsequently collapsed under the weight of the booty and then the fallen cinnamon was quickly gathered before incurring the wrath of these original “angry birds.”
The truth about cinnamon harvesting is a little less dramatic. Both cinnamon and the closely related cassia, which is what is commonly sold in this country as cinnamon, are bushy evergreen trees of the laurel family native to Sri Lanka. The bark of young shoots is peeled off in strips and the corky outer layer is scraped off, leaving the fragrant inner bark which curls into the familiar quill shape as it dries.
Cinnamon and cassia are two of the oldest spices known to man. It has a long history of being used medicinally and in religious ceremonies in the ancient world long before it became popular in the middle ages as a food flavoring and status symbol. As with nutmeg, the demand for cinnamon led to war between the Dutch and the Portuguese once the source was found. In the 18th Century, Dutch colonists were slaughtered by natives, which led to cruel reprisals and an upper hand for the Portuguese. As cinnamon began to be harvested in other colonial lands, its worth gradually decreased along with it’s status. Today, it seems cinnamon is mostly prized for its sweet aroma which has the ability to lure crowds of people into Cinnabon shops stationed in malls across the country. The timeline on the company website skips from 2800 BC, when Egyptians began importing cinnamon from China, to 1910 when the first cinnamon roll recipes began appearing in English cookbooks. Perhaps Cinnabon’s marketing team didn’t think mentioning the fact that ancient Egyptians used cinnamon in the embalming process would entice people to hop in the car and get a cinnamon roll.
I wonder if it might, however, make them think twice about taking the infamous “cinnamon challenge.” There is a website dedicated to videos of people who have taken the challenge which is to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon in 60 seconds without drinking water. Inevitably, the challengers end up spewing a choke-inducing cloud of red dust out of their mouths. Cinnamon, as it is the bark of a tree, is mostly made up of cellulose fibers—it does not dissolve in saliva anymore than sawdust would. It also does not break down in the lungs and can cause considerable damage if inhaled. So heed the advice on the website: “It’s going to burn, you are going to cough, and regret you tried… so watch movies of people already feeling the pain.” Or just get your cinnamon fix at the mall.
Click Below to Listen to Lisa:[audio:http://www.pawlingpublicradio.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/130711_Spice-Final-Frontier_Cinnamon.mp3|Titles = Spice Final Frontier_Cinnamon]