Discovering Sri Lanka
« Ceylon cinnamon is a legendary spice »
Cinnamon is initially from Ceylon, but in Ancient times its origins were the source of many a legend. The Egyptians, who used it for embalming, believed that it grew according to secret rites in a far-off mysterious land. To get to the bottom of this mystery, Queen Hatshepsut commanded an expedition to the Land of Punt, “Land of the God”, now Ethiopia, and thus opened up the spice route. The Romans’ infatuation with Indian and Sri Lankan luxury goods such as pepper, cinnamon, ginger, pearls and ivory, verged on madness.
From the Renaissance onwards, the Portuguese, the English and the Dutch fought fiercely to control the monopoly of these spices that they traded all around the world.
So where does Ceylon cinnamon really come from?
Cinnamon is the bark of the cinnamon tree, Cinnanomum zeylanicum which is part of the Lauraceae family, like the camphor tree, avocado tree, or bay tree. It is the only member of the Lauraceae family to have adapted to our climate. The tree has a straight trunk, reddish bark, with a rounded carriage, and grows up to 10m high. Harvesting cinnamon requires great expertise. The new branches are cut and the outer bark is removed. Then the fine inner bark is cut and carefully removed, then scored and scratched by hand and dried.
Cinnamon sticks are formed once the bark of the cinnamon tree is dried initially in the shade and then in the sun. It can be used whole or ground. In Europe and America, it is mainly used in sweet dishes whilst in India, Sri Lanka and North Africa it is used in savoury dishes.
What’s the difference between Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon?
Cassia Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) is not to be confused with Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamumum verum) which is the bark of the cinnamon tree. The former contains coumarin which is toxic in large amounts. It’s called “false cinnamon” or “Chinese cinnamon” as it’s less expensive and not as rich in flavour as Ceylon cinnamon.
How to tell the two apart?
You need to look at the shape and form of the cinnamon sticks. Ceylon cinnamon is made up of several fine layers of bark rolled up together whereas Cassia cinnamon is made of a single layer of thick hard bark.
Recipe idea: Poire belle-Hélène with Ceylon Cinnamon
1 tablespoon of agave nectar
2 teaspoons ground Ceylon cinnamon
250 g dark chocolate
100 g butter
Poire belle-Hélène and cinnamon go perfectly together.
- Cut the pears in half and take out the core.
- Place on a baking sheet and then spoon over agave nectar and the ground Ceylon cinnamon.
- Cook in a preheated oven at 180° C for around 20 minutes. Make sure you turn the pears during the cooking.
- Melt the chocolate with the butter.
- Serve the caramelized pears with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream, then cover generously in melted chocolate.
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