Cinnamon (and Cassia)
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Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum, synonym C. zeylanicum) is a small evergreen tree 10–15 meters (32.8–49.2 feet) tall, belonging to the family Lauraceae, native to Sri Lanka and South India. The bark is widely used as a spice due to its distinct odour. In India it is also known as “Daalchini”.
The leaves are ovate-oblong in shape, 7–18 cm (2.75–7.1 inches) long. The flowers, which are arranged in panicles, have a greenish color, and have a distinct odor. The fruit is a purple one-centimetre berry containing a single seed.
Its flavour is due to an aromatic essential oil which makes up 0.5 to 1% of its composition. This oil is prepared by roughly pounding the bark, macerating it in sea-water, and then quickly distilling the whole. It is of a golden-yellow colour, with the characteristic odour of cinnamon and a very hot aromatic taste. The pungent taste and scent come from cinnamic aldehyde or cinnamaldehyde and, by the absorption of oxygen as it ages, it darkens in colour and develops resinous compounds. Chemical components of the essential oil include ethyl cinnamate, eugenol, cinnamaldehyde, beta-caryophyllene, linalool and methyl chavicol.
The name cinnamon comes from Greek kinnámōmon, from Phoenician and akin to Hebrew qinnâmôn, itself ultimately from a Malaysian language, cf. Malay and Indonesian kayu manis which means sweet wood.
Cinnamon has been known from remote antiquity, and it was so highly prized among ancient nations that it was regarded as a gift fit for monarchs and other great potentates. It was imported to Egypt from China as early as 2000 BC, and is mentioned in the Bible in Exodus 30:23, where Moses is commanded to use both sweet cinnamon (Hebrew קִנָּמוֹן, qinnāmôn) and cassia, and in Proverbs 7:17–18, where the lover’s bed is perfumed with myrrh, aloe and cinnamon, then lastly in Song of Solomon 4:14, a song describing the beauty of his beloved, cinnamon scents her garments like the smell of Lebanon. It is also alluded to by Herodotus and other classical writers. It was commonly used on funeral pyres in Rome, and the Emperor Nero is said to have burned a year’s supply of cinnamon at the funeral for his wife Poppaea Sabina, in 65 AD.
Indonesian rafts transported cinnamon on a “cinnamon route” directly from the Moluccas to East Africa, where local traders then carried it north to the Roman market.  See also Rhapta.
In the Middle Ages, the source of cinnamon was a mystery to the Western world. Arab traders brought the spice via overland trade routes to Alexandria in Egypt, where it was bought by Venetian traders from Italy who held a monopoly on the spice trade in Europe. The disruption of this trade by the rise of other Mediterranean powers, such as the Mamluk Sultans and the Ottoman Empire, was one of many factors that led Europeans to search more widely for other routes to Asia.
Portuguese traders finally discovered Ceylon (Sri Lanka) at the end of the fifteenth century, and restructured the traditional production of cinnamon by the salagama caste. The Portuguese established a fort on the island in 1518, and protected their own monopoly for over a hundred years.