The “Ceylon Cinnamon” or “true cinnamon”, is the dried bark of Cinnamomum zealanicum Blume. It belongs to the family Lauraceae, which contains nearly 250 species and subspecies. It is indigenous to Sri Lanka and is an evergreen perennial plant with spirally arranged, broad laminated dark green leaves having palmate venation.
Ceylon Cinnamon, a plant indigenous to Sri Lanka, is a moderately sized bushy evergreen tree and under natural conditions, the plant grows to a height of 10 – 15m with the girth of 30-50cm. When coppiced from time to time it could be maintained as bush of 2-2.5m height with multiple stems arising from its base. The flowers are small, creamy and inconspicuous developing into dark purple ovoid one seeded berries, about 1.5 – 2.5cm long.
Cinnamon grown and produced in Sri Lanka has acquired a long standing status. Before the advent of modern food preservation technology Europeans have used cinnamon with pepper to preserve meet products. Cinnamon is used in bakery products, Asian foods and flavoured tea for its distinctive aroma and flavour. With growing concern on health hazards associated with synthetic flavouring agents used in the food industry there is an increasing preference for natural flavours worldwide.
In Sri Lanka, cinnamon seems to have originated in the central hills where several species of cinnamon occur sporadically in places such as Kandy, Matale, Belihull-Oya, Haputale, Horton Plains and the Sinharaja forest range. Although cinnamon cultivation is presently concentrated along the coastal belt stretching along from Kalutara to Matara, it has also made inroads to the inland of Negombo, Kalutara, Ambalangoda, Matara and Ratnapura. The extent under cinnamon cultivation is 25.500ha. Although, the bulk of cinnamon plantations are about 70 – 80 years old, the size of holdings has been diminishing and only about 5-10 per cent of the plantations are of sizeable extent ranging from 8 – 10ha.
Cinnamon was one of the first traded spices of the ancient world. Cinnamon was a popular spice in the ancient Arab world and Arab traders have paved the way for cinnamon to travel a long distance through the spice route to the European market. Cinnamon has motivated many historical voyages leading to the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus and Vasco De Gamma to Sri Lanka and South India.
Cinnamon is originally grown wild in the central hill country of Sri Lanka. The history of cinnamon dates back to about 2800 B.C where it can be found referenced as” kwai” in Chinese writings. Cinnamon is even mentioned in the Bible when Moses used it as an ingredient for his anointing oil in ancient Rome. It was burned in Roman funerals perhaps partly as a way of offsetting the odor of dead bodies. Emperor Nero is said to have burned a years’ worth of the dry supply of cinnamon at the funeral of his wife Poppaea Sabina. Ancient Egyptians used it in embalming mummies because of pleasant odours and its preservative qualities.
The best historical evidence about the cinnamon trade in Sri Lanka is found in the Upcountry-Dutch agreement (Hanguranketha agreement) signed in 14th February 1766 between the Sri Lankan king Sri Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe and the Dutch government.
By this agreement the King had permitted the Dutch to cut and peel cinnamon in certain forest areas of Sri Lanka and the Dutch agreed to protect the Kingdom from foreign invasion.
Products and uses
Cinnamon bark is largely available in the form of quills and making quills is unique to Sri Lanka. Quills are made by rolling the peeled bark and join several of them together to get a pipe like structure in the required length. Other than that, pieces of bark are available as chips, quillings or featherings. Cinnamon is a unique plant which has essential oil in leaves, bark and roots but chemical composition of them are completely different from each other. Essential oils are produced from both bark and leaves; major chemical in bark oil is Cinnamaldehyde and in leaf oil Eugenol. Cinnamon is also available in pure ground form or as an ingredient in curry mixtures and pelleted form too.
Cinnamon is mostly used in cooking and baking. Cinnamon is a versatile spice which can be added to any food item such as salads, confectionaries, beverages, soups, stews and sauces. Cinnamon drink made by immersing pieces of bark in hot water is popular among Latin American countries. Cinnamon flavoured tea is becoming popular. It is also used as a common ingredient in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine. Cinnamon leaf and bark oils are used to flavour food products, in perfumery industry and in pharmaceutical industry.
Ceylon Cinnamon and Cassia are the more important ones that are traded in the international market. Cassia is originated from different countries such as China, Vietnam region, Java region, Indonesia and India. ‘Ceylon Cinnamon’ referred to as “sweet cinnamon” and “true cinnamon” is considered superior to the variety known as Cassia.
The unique method of processing and curing of cinnamon entices the characteristic flavour over cassia. The preparation of Cinnamon quills involves a combination of art and skill unique to Sri Lanka and has been handed down from generation to generation over centuries. Value added Cinnamon products such as Cinnamon oil, Cinnamon powder and tablets are also produced and exported to large number of countries.
Sri Lanka commands more than 85 per cent of the world market share for real cinnamon. Ceylon “true Cinnamon” is now being exported to the world market under the national brand name ‘Pure Ceylon Cinnamon’ owned by the Export Development Board (EDB). The trademark has been registered in the main cinnamon export markets such as the EU, US, Peru, Colombia and Mexico. Sri Lankan exporters who are authorised to export value added cinnamon products using PCC logo on their product. The Ceylon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zelanicum) referred to as “sweet cinnamon” and “true cinnamon” is considered superior to the variety known as Cassia in the global market.
The US and Mexico are the main markets for Ceylon Cinnamon. Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Spain, Guatemala, Chile and Bolivia are the other countries which consume a considerable amount of Ceylon Cinnamon. Sri Lanka has an immense potential to penetrate into niche market segments in the International market. Sri Lanka’s exports represent 41.13 per cent of world exports for this product, its ranking in world exports is 1(Trademap2013). The commercial products of cinnamon are quills, quillings, featherings, chips, cut pieces, powder, cinnamon bark oil, cinnamon leaf oil and cinnamon extracts. The main export product is cinnamon quills and the traditional processing method of cinnamon quills, unique to Sri Lanka is connected to the superiority in the flavour quality of the product.
Cinnamon leaf oil rich in eugenol is a very valuable product used in the pharmacological field and the toothpaste industry. Cinnamon bark oil rich in Cinnamaldehyde plays a vital role in the pharmacological and perfumery industry. Sri Lanka is the dominating supplier of cinnamon bark oil to the world market.
High levels of coumarin, a chemical that naturally occurs in cinnamon, is toxic to the liver, acts as an anticoagulant, and is known to cause cancer in rodents. According to the researchers, experiments conducted using a variety of popular cinnamon flavoured food and cinnamon food supplements found Ceylon Cinnamon to contain insignificant traces of coumarin whereas barks from cassia, imported from China, Vietnam and Indonesia and sold as cinnamon in the US, had substantial amounts of the toxic chemical.
Cinnamon as a food item
Value added cinnamon produced such as cinnamon oil, cinnamon powder and tablets are also produced in Sri Lanka for export to large number of countries. Cinnamon is used in bakery products, Asian foods, flavoured tea for its distinctive aroma and flavour and also in the preservation of certain foods.
At present Cinnamon is widely used as a food ingredient, in the pharmaceutical preparations and in the cosmetics industry worldwide. Being high in antioxidants it is good for overall health. Volatile oil of cinnamon is widely used in perfumes, cosmetics and scented exotic gifts.
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