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Cinnamon is surely the exotic spice of the ages. Used since biblical times as a perfume and as incense, it was originally imported into Egypt and Judea by the Phoenicians.
Native to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) and India, it is actually the inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree that can grow to a height of 35 feet. After the bark is peeled from the tree, it is left to dry and ferment for a day, then the outer bark is scraped away. As the inner bark dries, it curls into its characteristic single quill. Ceylon (or true) cinnamon is tan colored with a mildly sweet flavor.
Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia)--a close relative native to Malaysia and Indonesia has FDA approval to be sold in the United States as cinnamon. It is dark, reddish-brown and has a stronger, slightly bittersweet flavor. When its inner bark dries, it curls from both ends, into scrolls.
Both true cinnamon and cassia have powerfully antiseptic essential oils (think about toothpaste) help to preserve food.