Once as precious as gold, Ceylon cinnamon, also known as true cinnamon, holds a unique position in the global spice market. Boasting superior health benefits and sweetness compared to its counterpart, cassia, Ceylon cinnamon is produced dominantly in Sri Lanka, contributing to 90% of the world’s supply. However, the competition with cassia, a cheaper but potentially unhealthy alternative, poses challenges in ensuring the purity of this prized spice.
Harvesting the Gold of Sri Lanka
Suneth, a dedicated harvester, toils in the fields before sunrise, carefully extracting Ceylon cinnamon from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree branches. The intricate process involves cutting at an inward angle, ensuring the longevity of each tree. After a meticulous four-hour harvesting session, the branches are soaked to ease the peeling process. The teamwork continues late into the evening as peelers like Saman scrape each branch, setting the stage for further processing.
The Art of Peeling Cinnamon
The inner bark, the essence of true cinnamon, is exposed and meticulously smoothed by brass rods. Surgical precision is applied to carve the bark into thin strips known as quills. These delicate quills, as thin as pencil lines, curl up as they dry, creating the distinct appearance of Ceylon cinnamon. Sorting and grading by diameter, with the highest quality being Alba, add value to the cinnamon before packaging for global distribution.
Unveiling the Rich History
Ceylon cinnamon’s journey through history is as captivating as its aroma. Traded since 2000 BC, it was once more valuable than gold. By the 13th century, Sri Lanka became a major exporter, sparking conflicts among the Portuguese, Dutch, and British for control. The country finally gained independence in 1948, but by then, cassia had already started its market dominance.
Ceylon vs. Cassia: A Healthier Choice?
While cassia, originating from a different tree in East or Southeast Asia, dominates the market due to its cost-effectiveness, Ceylon cinnamon boasts health benefits such as immune system support and blood pressure regulation. The competition between the two raises concerns about hidden health risks associated with coumarin levels, particularly in cassia.
Identifying True Cinnamon
Distinguishing between Ceylon and cassia becomes easier when buying cinnamon sticks. Ceylon quills have a brown hue, while cassia tends to be red and thicker. The taste is another giveaway, with cassia offering a spicier flavor and Ceylon a sweeter profile. However, identifying the difference in powdered form proves challenging, with fraudulent practices identified in European and US grocery stores.
Safeguarding Ceylon Cinnamon
In a significant development in 2022, the European Union granted a geographical indication tag to Ceylon cinnamon, linking its origin exclusively to Sri Lanka. Despite this, challenges persist in labeling transparency, urging the need for botanical or species names on ingredient lists to empower consumers and support Sri Lanka’s cinnamon producers.
In conclusion, the aromatic journey of Ceylon cinnamon unveils its rich history, production intricacies, and the challenges it faces in a market filled with imitations. As consumers, being informed and discerning is crucial in ensuring that the pure essence of Ceylon cinnamon graces our spice racks.