Darseen, Kerfee, Salikha
Kuei, Rou gui pi
Kassie, Bastaard kaneel, Valse kaneel
Chinese cassia, Bastard cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon
French Casse, Canefice, Canelle de Chine
German Chinesisches Zimt, Kassie
Hungarian Kasszia, Fahejkasszia, Kinai fahej
Italian Cassia, Cannella della Cina
Japanese Kashia keihi, Bokei
Laotian Sa chouang
Russian Korichnoje derevo
Spanish Casia, Canela de la China
Thai Ob choey
Tejpat (C. tamala)
Arabic Sazaj hindi
English Indian cassia, cassia lignea
Hindi Tejpat, Tajpat, Taj-kalam
Japanese Tamara Nikkei
Persian Sazaj hind
Sanskrit Tejapatra, Tamalapatra, Patra, Tamalaka
Tamil Perialavangapallai, Perialavangapattai, Talishappattiri
Source: Compiled from various sources. Notes
Cinnamon is used as an adjective in naming some plants. Such plants have no relationship with cinnamon or the genus Cinnamomum, e.g.:
Cinnamon fern: Osmunda cinnamomea L. (Osmundaceae).
Cinnamon rose: Rosa majalis Herrm. (Rosaceae).
Cinnamon vine: Dioscoria batatas Decne. (Dioscoriaceae).
Cinnamon wattle: Acacia leprosa Sieber ex DC (Mimosaceae).
Cinnamodendron Endl. Agenus in Canellaceae.
C. corticosum Miers (wl)-bark of this tree is used as a spice and a tonic.
Cinnamosma Baillon (Canellaceae). Indigenous to Madagascar. C. fragrans Baillon has highly scented wood, produces scented fumes on burning. Used in religious ceremonies.
them. History tells us that the Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut (around 1500 BC), sent out an expedition of five ships to bring spices and aromatics from the land of "Punt" (which was believed to have been the land on either side of the lower Red Sea and Gulf of Eden). These ships returned loaded with "fragrant woods of god's land, heaps of myrrh-resin of fresh myrrh trees, cinnamon wood, with incense, eye-cosmetic" (Parry, 1969). Rosengarten (1969) writes that the origin of cinnamon which Hatshepsut collected is uncertain as cinnamon trees are not indigenous to the land of "Punt". According to the historian Miller (1969), there are indications that as early as the second millennium BC, cassia and cinnamon from China and South-East Asia might have been brought from Indonesia to Madagascar in primitive canoes, along a "cinnamon route" which might have existed at that time. These aromatic barks were then transported northward along the East African coast to the Nile Valley and from there to the land of "Punt".
References to cinnamon and cassia exist in the Old Testament of the Bible. In Exodus, the Lord spoke to Moses on the top of Mount Sinai and gave instructions that the children of Israel should build a tabernacle, so that he might dwell among them; and further instructed for the preparation of an anointing oil for the tabernacle containing cinnamon and cassia with other things:
The Lord spake unto Moses. Take thou also unto thee principal spices, of pure myrrah five hundred shekels, and of sweet cinnamon half so much . . . and of cassia five hundred shekels And thou shalt make of it an oil of holy anointment. And thou shalt anoint the tabernacle of the congregation therewith and the ark of testimony
This is the first biblical reference to cinnamon and cassia (Parry, 1969). The building of the tabernacle is believed to have taken place around 1490 BC, and the biblical reference indicates that these spices were well known and held in very high esteem at that time. Again later in Psalm 45 (Verse 8) cassia is mentioned as perfume: "All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby thy hand made thee glad". Cinnamon is mentioned in the beautiful passages of the Song of Solomon, where there are many references about spices:
thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits, camphire, with spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices
We also find in the Revelations that St. John the Divine foretells the fall of the great city of Babylon and the distress that ensues:
and the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her, and cinnamon, and odours, and odours and ointments thou shalt find them no more at all
It is thus amply clear that cinnamon and cassia were held in high esteem in those ancient days. At one time it was more valuable than gold (Farrell, 1985). They were among the most valuable medicinal plants for ancient Greeks and Romans. Dioscorides records:
Cinnamon provoked urine, it cleared the eyes and made the breath sweet. An extract of cinnamon would bring down the menses and would counteract the stings and bites of venomous beasts, reduce the inflammation of the intestines and kidneys, comfort the stomach, break wind, would aid in digestion and when mixed with honey would remove spots from the face that was anointed there with
Parry (1969) was of opinion that the founders of the spice trade between India and the rest of the world were either the Phoenicians or the Arabs. The Phoenicians were accomplished sailors, and they might have been responsible for transporting cinnamon from the east to the west. They were expert traders of all commodities, including spices. There are references of cassia and cinnamon in Ezekiel (Chapter 27), where there are high praises about the richness of Tyre, the capital of Phoenicians under the emperor Hiram, and also references about Arabian merchants carrying spices. The Phoenicians were probably the first to carry cinnamon and cassia to Greece, and along with the spice, its name "cinnamon" also passed on to the Greeks.
It is not always possible to correctly identify the plants mentioned in ancient writings. The reference about the aromatic wood collected by Hatsheput's expedition casts a shadow of doubt as to its identity. Most probably it was not the present cinnamon at all. The wood of cinnamon has not much fragrance, and on burning cinnamon wood does not give fragrant smoke, only its bark has the spicy taste and smell. Again there were references about Nero burning cinnamon in the funeral pyre of his wife, why? Was it not for the fragrance it was giving out? Then can it be some other wood, having fragrance that produces fragrant smoke on burning? If so, a possible case is the small tree species, Cinnamosma fragrans (Canellaceae) occurring in the eastern coastal African forests as well as in Madagascar. The wood of this tree is fragrant and produces fragrant smoke on burning. It was easier for the Egyptians or to the enterprising people of "Punt" to travel along the coast line of Africa to the eastern coastal forests and collect the fragrant wood of Cinnamosma rather than travelling to Ceylon or the Far East. The name probably came to be applied to cinnamon at a later time.
In ancient times, the south Arabian region was occupied by a nomadic race, the Sabians, whose vocation was sailing and sea trading. Their main merchandise was spices. It was possibly from these people the ancient Egyptians collected their requirement of spices. Probably it was the same people who carried spices from Gilead to Egypt, and it was possibly from Arabia that the Egyptian Queen Hatshepsut collected cinnamon and cassia over 3500 years ago (the land of "Punt"). The south Arabians held a virtual monopoly on the spice trade for a very long time. Historical evidence is quite insufficient to come to a conclusion on the relative roles played by the Arabians and Phoenicians in the ancient spice trade.
The central position occupied by Arabia also gave way to the belief that cassia and cinnamon were produced in that country. Herodotus and Theophrastus recorded the magical stories perpetuated by the Arabians about the source of cinnamon and cassia. Theophrastus describes south-west Arabia as the land of myrrh, frankincense and cinnamon. The aromatics are in such abundance there, says Strabo, that the people use cinnamon and cassia instead of sticks as firewood (Parry, 1969). The Sabean traders fabricated all sorts of stories about cinnamon and cassia, and they were successful for a long time in shrouding the source of cinnamon in mystery. One such story goes like this:
Far away, in a distant land, said Arab traders to spice buyers from Europe, there is a great lake. It is surrounded by deep and fragrant woods and high cliffs. On those cliffs nests a great dragon-like bird with a scimitar-sharp beak and talons like Saladin's sword. The nest of this bird is made of only one material; the bark of a rare tree. And when it has made its nest, it does not lay eggs in it. Oh no. It does not need to. It flaps its wings so fast that the bark catches fire and then the bird sits in the middle of its blazing pyre. And then, lo and behold, it emerges from the flames refreshed, renewed, rejuvenated. The name of the bird is Phoenix. And the name of the bark? Ah! It is cinnamon. And that is why, that is exactly why, cinnamon is so expensive.
Thus, the astute Arabs, not only enhanced the value of cinnamon but they also concealed its origin for many centuries. This is perhaps one of the best kept trade secrets of all time. It was only when the Europeans started sailing around the world, in search of pepper, that they discovered cinnamon and its cousin cassia and that they grew fairly easily in South, South-East and East Asia (Gantzer and Gantzer, 1995).
The Arab domination of the spice trade was broken by the rise of the Roman empire. Around AD 40, Mariner Hippalus discovered the trade wind systems in the Indian Ocean, hitherto known only to the Arabs. It is believed that he had travelled to India and back around AD 40, thereby opening up the direct trade route between Rome and the West Coast of India. As a result, by the end of the first century AD, the use of spices in Rome had grown miraculously. Cinnamon, cassia and cardamom occupied the pride of place among the spices. The extravagance is clear from references to the huge supplies of the aromatic spices that were strewn along the path behind the funeral urn bearing the ashes of Commander Germanicus. Emperor Nero is said to have burned a year's supply of Rome's cinnamon at his wife's funeral pyre (AD 66). It was also customary for men to be heavily perfumed and even "the legionaries reeked of the fragrances of the east" (Rosengarten, 1969). Even lamp oil was mixed with aromatics to keep harmful vapours away.
By the end of the third century AD, the Arabians had established trade relationships with China, mainly for trading in cassia. This aided them to trade not only in cassia, but also in spices that came from the far eastern countries (East Indies). In AD 330, the Roman emperor Constantine founded the city of Constantinople on the site of the ancient Byzantium, which became the capital of the Byzantine Empire. During this period cassia from China, nutmeg and cloves from Moluccas, cinnamon from Ceylon, pepper and cardamom from the Malabar coast of India reached the new city in large quantities. Ceylon and the Malabar Coast were the transshipment spots in this spice trade.
The course of history never runs smoothly for long. Alaric the Gothic invaded and captured Rome in AD 410. The hegemony and splendour of Rome and her supremacy over trade all came to an abrupt end. Once again the Arabs came in and soon became the masters of the spice trade. This supremacy continued till the fifteenth century, when the sea route to India was discovered and Vasco-da-Gama landed in the West Coast of India on 20 May 1498.
During the middle ages (between the fifth and fifteenth centuries) spices started reaching Western Europe and were among the choicest gifts to royalty and the privileged, especially to the monasteries and ecclesiastical establishments (Parry, 1969). The travelogues of Marco Polo, the most renowned traveller of the middle ages, give the most authentic information on the spice trade in the middle ages. He writes about the cassia cultivation in China, cloves of Nicobar, pepper, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon of the Malabar Coast and many seed spices, such as sesame.
The earliest recorded reference to cinnamon bark as a product of Ceylon dates back to the thirteenth century (Redgrove, 1933). Redgrove writes:
It seems quite probable that the Chinese, who traded with Ceylon were concerned in the discovery of the valuable qualities of the bark of Sinhalese tree, similar but superior, to the cassia of their own country At any rate when the
Sinhalese product was imported into Europe, its superior character was soon recognised and the product fetched very high prices (1933).
By the thirteenth century, the East Indies became a busy trading centre in spices. Java was the main centre for trading in nutmeg, mace and cloves that came from the Moluccas Islands. From Java the Arabian ships carried these spices to the west. In fact, "the East Indies gradually eclipsed the Malabar Coast of India as the most important source of costly spices, and both places attracted the princes and merchants of Western Europe to bring in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the greatest and brightest age of discovery the world has ever seen" (Parry, 1969).
China emerged as a major trader of spices during this period, trading in cassia and ginger and procuring large quantities of pepper and other spices from the Malabar Coast and the East Indies. At this time cassia and cassia buds became popular spices in Europe and England. Of course, spices were beyond the reach of common folk, as they were so costly, mainly because no direct trade links existed between Europe and the eastern spice-producing countries. The Arabs monopolised the trade in the east, and Venice controlled the trade in the Mediterranean.
Spices like pepper, cardamon, cinnamon and cassia contributed greatly to European cooking. Parry (1969) writes:
The coming of the highly aromatic and pungent spices of the orient was the greatest boon to the European food and cooking of all times. New methods of preserving food quickly came into existence; dishes took on a fullness of flavour previously unknown; beverages glowed with a redolent tang, and life experienced a new sense of warmth and satisfaction.
Spices were also used as medicines by the people of ancient and middle ages. Warren R Dawson made a collection of medical recipes of the fifteenth century, wherein some 26 spices were indicated for various ailments. Cinnamon and cassia were components of medicines recommended for coughs, chest pain, headache, digestion and gas problems. In Chinese traditional medicine, cassia bark (cortex cinnamomi — Rou gui) and dried twig (ramulus cinnamomi — Guo shi) are two separate drugs used differently.
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