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What Exactly is Cinnamon?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Cinnamon is the dried inner bark of an evergreen tree that is harvested during the rainy season when the bark is most flexible and easiest to work with. There are various evergreens belonging to the cinnamomum family that produce cinnamon, but the highest grade is from the cinnamomum zeylanicum tree indigenous to Sri Lanka. In fact the name cinnamomum zeylanicum is derived from the former name of the island, Ceylon.

A wild cinnamon tree can grow to 65 feet (20 meters) high, but trees used for harvesting are pruned down at about 2 years of age to produce an abundance of finer bark-yielding growth called, tillering. Once the tree reaches 3 years of age it's harvested twice yearly following each rainy season.

At harvest time the shoots are cut and the leaves and twigs are removed with the rough outer bark. The shoots are then beaten to soften the tissues of the inner bark and make it easier to peel away in a complete strip. Once peeled, the bark is placed in overlapping, extended layers then rolled to form long canes or quills that are sun-dried. As the quills dry, the bark curls and becomes paper-like. These long canes are later cut into sticks. Flakes left over from this process, called featherings are sold to make into ground cinnamon powder or to be distilled into oil. Cinnamon trees can yield productive bark for about 45 years, after which they are replaced with a new seedling.

Today much of North America's cinnamon comes from Southeast Asia and the closely related cassia tree. Cassia is considered slightly inferior in taste to zeylanicum or true cinnamon that is a softer color with a milder, sweeter flavor. It is normally a darker reddish brown color and has a stronger, somewhat bittersweet flavor. This type is also less expensive than zeylanicum cinnamon. Most spice available in the United States does not state its origin.

Cinnamon has a rich history dating back 5,000 years when Arabs controlled the spice trade, bringing cinnamon from what was known then as the Spice Islands to sell in Nineveh, Babylon, Egypt and Rome. Egyptians used it in their embalming rituals, the Romans used it as a love potion and valued spices as highly as gold, and Nero burned a year's worth in tribute to his dead wife. Even Noah used cinnamon in a holy oil to anoint the ark. By the 11th century, spices were used in place of currency in many instances and during the spice wars that followed, control of cinnamon played a vital role.

With its woody, mild yet exotic flavor, cinnamon is arguably the most popular spice in the world. Aside from its many uses in baking and cooking, it also provides a wonderful aroma to freshen the house. Just boil 5 cups (1.2 liters) of water with a teaspoon (2.6 grams) of added spice, then let it simmer on the stove to enjoy the smell of a spice that has intoxicated people for over five millennia!

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Discussion Comments
By anon72148 — On Mar 22, 2010

It seems more and more people are discovering the uses of cinnamon. I use cinnamon for lots of things. I use it for cold and flu remedy. Just a tablespoon or two in a cup of tea and you're good as well.

Cinnamon is an inexpensive substitute for many antibiotics and I've recently begun to use it in place of my bipolar medicine. I also use it in place of mouthwash and sometimes in place of toothpaste if I'm out of toothpaste.

I'm currently getting results using it to stimulate hair growth in my balding spots. I make a mixture of 2 parts cinnamon and 1 part shoe polish and apply it liberally to my scalp. I can really feel it making a difference.

I love the smell. I think it can even pass as a decent aftershave. You simply have to mix it with something to get it to stick to your face - alcohol, bourbon, vaseline whatever.

It also creates a nice burning sensation if you dump some down your pants. Great smelling underwear and a gentle steady burn. It's not for everybody. But for those who love cinnamon.

By Gabi — On Feb 25, 2008

Since October last year I am on "cinnamon cure." It works! Absolutely no arthritis in my hands and knees!

I take 1 teaspoon a day or more.

Recipe I found was 1 teaspoon cinnamon powder in one cup of water + 1 tbsp of honey- boil for a while.

I reduced that recipe to 1 cup of hot water + cinnamon powder. for me it was just too sweet.

I also have honey mixed with cinnamon but I take it rarely.

Cinnamon powder is not expensive and if you think about other health benefits!

Unfortunately I do not go to the doctor and have no idea what is happening with my cholesterol or blood sugar. I am 56 and absolutely look a bit younger!

By somerset — On Dec 18, 2007

In recent studies, cinnamon has proven to have beneficial effect on blood level sugar. Apparently the result of the study which meant taking 3/8th of a teaspoon of cinnamon a day for a month left the participants with a better level of blood sugar. That is great news, maybe some day (after additional studies have confirmed it) doctors will prescribe cinnamon as part of diabetic treatment, in the meantime it sounds like a good idea to sprinkle some cinnamon on toast, apples, oatmeal, etc for a tasty and it looks like healthy treat.

By anon3079 — On Aug 09, 2007

In response to both of your questions, there seem to be many benefits. Though all the sources I could find online were based on herbalists' research (not MDs), cinnamon seems to be especially useful for lowering your cholesterol, as well as helping to regulate blood sugar, if you're diabetic.

As for mixing it with honey and/or water, there are claims that it can ease indigestion, reduce pain of arthritis (spread topically or ingested), and many many other things.

The best thing is that it turns out that taking a good long whiff off of your cinnamon jar will help to improve brain function! (according to one study) (insert other disclaimers here)

By anon3066 — On Aug 08, 2007

What are the advantages of taking cinnamon with honey & mix it with water?

By anon246 — On Apr 19, 2007

Does cinnamon have any medicinal components?

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