Historical Background of Ceylon Cinnamon

Historical Background of Ceylon Cinnamon

Cinnamon, the warm, aromatic spice that elevates every meal, has a history as rich and captivating as its flavor. In this article, we’ll tell the fascinating story of Ceylon cinnamon, one of cinnamon’s varieties, a prized possession for centuries, and a cornerstone of Sri Lanka's identity.

Before refrigeration became a thing, spices were not just flavorings but essential ingredients for preserving food. And a particular spice was sought after by empires and whispered about in hushed tones. That spice is called Ceylon cinnamon.

The story begins in Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, a lush island nation blessed with the perfect climate for growing Cinnamomum zeylanicum, the botanical name for the true Ceylon cinnamon tree.

It's important to note that there are actually two main types of cinnamon commonly available today: Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon. While both have warm, spicy flavors, Ceylon cinnamon is prized for its delicate sweetness and subtle complexity. Cassia cinnamon, originating from Southeast Asia, has a stronger, more pungent flavor and is the more widely available type.

The first clear mention of Ceylon cinnamon's origin appears in the 13th century, with Arab chronicles describing its purchase and transport from Sri Lanka. A network of traders, traveled through treacherous sea voyages, to deliver this precious spice to faraway lands. Venetian merchants held a monopoly on cinnamon in Europe, but little did they know, the source remained a mystery for many.

The Rise and Fall of Empires Fueled by Spice

The 16th century marked a turning point. European explorers, fueled by the allure of spices like cinnamon, set sail for new lands. The Portuguese were the first to reach Sri Lanka, and they weren't shy about taking control. They established forts, restructured cinnamon production, and fiercely guarded their newfound monopoly on Ceylon cinnamon. Think pirates, battles, and high-stakes spice trading – it was a dramatic time for this prized commodity.

The Dutch weren't far behind, however. They saw the immense value of Ceylon cinnamon and eventually ousted the Portuguese in the 17th century. The Dutch implemented stricter controls and established a more organised trade system. Complete with vast plantations dedicated to cultivating Ceylon cinnamon trees, and meticulous harvesting techniques involving the peeling of only the inner bark (quills) for the best flavour and aroma – the Dutch were serious about cinnamon!

Finally, in the late 18th century, the British took control of Sri Lanka. While their rule saw a decline in the strict quality control measures, Ceylon cinnamon remained a highly sought-after product. Imagine the aroma of freshly ground Ceylon cinnamon wafting through grand English kitchens, a testament to the enduring popularity of this exotic spice.

Ceylon Cinnamon Today

Today, Ceylon cinnamon remains a highly sought-after spice. Unlike its more common cousin, cassia cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon is prized for its delicate flavour and subtle sweetness. Imagine the satisfaction of baking with pure Ceylon cinnamon, knowing you're using a spice with a rich history and a unique flavour profile that can elevate any dish.

But the story doesn't end there. Sri Lanka is still a major producer of Ceylon cinnamon, with strict quality standards, a focus on sustainable harvesting practices, and modern-day farmers who continue to cultivate this ancient spice using traditional methods, ensuring its legacy lives on.

So, the next time you sprinkle Ceylon cinnamon on your toast or add a pinch to your curry, take a moment to appreciate the incredible journey this spice has taken. It's a reminder of the power of flavour, the allure of exotic ingredients, and the enduring legacy of Ceylon, the island that gave the world this treasured spice.


Cinnamon Academy. About Ceylon Cinnamon. Retrieved from https://cinnamonacademy.lk/about-ceylon-cinnamon/

Cinnamon Zone. Ceylon Cinnamon History Retrieved from https://www.cinnamonzone.hk/cinnamon_history_a.html

Aljazeera (2021). Harvesting ‘true cinnamon’: The story of the Ceylon spice. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/10/18/harvesting-true-cinnamon-the-story-of-the-ceylon-spice

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