All About Cinnamon (Darchini)

In Indian cuisine, Darchini, which is Cinnamon in India, is an essential spice. Not only in Indian cuisine, Cinnamon is widely used as a food condiment in many other cuisines of the world.

This unmistakable aromatic spice is the inner bark of different evergreen trees that are members of the genus Cinnamomum. The word “cinnamon” in English can be traced back to the fifteenth century, derives from the Greek (kinnámōmon), via Latin and medieval French. The Greek word was taken from a Phoenician word, which was similar to the Hebrew (qinnāmōn). Early modern English also used the names canel and canella, similar to the current names of cinnamon in several other European languages, which are derived from the Latin word cannella, a diminutive of canna, which means “tube”, from the way the bark curls up as it dries.

Origin and History

Is native to Sri Lanka (Ceylon), Cinnamomum zeylanicum, referenced back to about 2800 B. C. and is still known as kwai in the Cantonese language today. The ancient Egyptians used it in embalming mummies because of its pleasant odors and its preservative qualities. Historically, cinnamon is even mentioned in the Bible, Moses used it as an ingredient for his anointing oils. In ancient Rome, it was burned during funerals, perhaps partly to eliminate the odor of dead bodies. In medieval Europe, it was used for religious rites and as a flavouring.

The history of cinnamon goes beyond its use in medicine or culinary. It was also about control and profit, once it was more valuable than gold. It seems that Arab traders brought it to Europe and got very demanded. Arab merchants could keep secret its origin until the early 16th century. European explorers set out to find the cinnamon’s mysterious source. Columbus set his sights on the West. Gonzalo Pizarro, a Spanish explorer, also sought cinnamon in the Americas, traversing the Amazon hoping to find the “País de la Canela”, or “cinnamon country.” During the 1500s, Ferdinand Magellan, a Portuguese navigator and explorer, was searching for spices on behalf of Spain. He found in the Philippines “Cinnamomum mindanaense”, which was closely related to C. Zeylanicum, the cinnamon from Sri Lanka. This cinnamon eventually competed with Sri Lankan cinnamon.

Portuguese traders discovered cinnamon in Sri Lanka about 1518 and occupied the island´s kingdom of Kotto, enslaved the native Sinhalese, gained control of the Cinnamon trade. In 1638 the Sri Lankan kingdom of Kandy formed an alliance with the Dutch to force out the Portuguese occupiers. The Dutch defeated the Portuguese but kept the kingdom in debt for their services, so Sri Lanka was occupied by the Dutch and they had a Cinnamon monopoly for the next 150 years. In 1796, English control of the seas allowed them to take Sri Lanka from the Dutch. Since then the production of Cinnamon has spread to other areas. By 1833, the downfall of the cinnamon monopoly had begun when other countries found it could be easily grown in their territory; areas as Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Mauritius, Réunion, and Guyana. Cinnamon is now also grown in South America, the West Indies, and other tropical climates.

Cinnamon (Darchini)

Harvest and Processing

The cinnamon tree is evergreen having oval-shaped leaves, thick bark, and berry fruit. It grows in moist well-drained soils and rarely reaches more than 15m in height. Usually, a Cinnamon tree requires to grow up to 3-4 years. For harvesting, stems are cut at ground level.

The stems must be processed immediately after harvesting while the inner bark is still wet. The outer bark of the cut stems is stripped off. Beating the branch evenly with a hammer to loosen the inner bark, which is then pried off in long sections. Only 0.5 mm of the inner bark is used. The outer parts and portions are discarded. Approximately meter-long inner bark (cinnamon) strips are saved. The processed bark dries completely in 4-6 hours. When Cinnamon is dried, it naturally curls up into “quills”. The ideal drying environment is to be well-ventilated and relatively warm. Once dry, the Cinnamon is sorted into grades and cut into 5-10 cm lengths for sale.

Types of Cinnamon

There are different types of Cinnamon growing and originating from different places. All of them are a bit different from one another in taste, smell, colour, chemical compounds, etc. There are mainly two different categories of Cinnamon: Cassia Cinnamon and Ceylon Cinnamon. These two types are originated from different trees, however belonging to the same scientific family, produce clearly different products. They are harvested in different ways and the final product is distinct in its taste, smell and properties.

Cassia Cinnamon is the most common one available commercially. The name “cassia” comes from Latin, it derivates from Hebrew, a form of the verb qātsa, meaning “strip off bark”. It has a bark-like form and rolled in thicker sheets. Comparing with Ceylon Cinnamon, these are rougher in texture, darker in colour and stronger in flavour. The Cassia Cinnamon is divided into the three following types:

  • Indonesian (Cinnamomum Burmannii, Korintje or Padang cassia). It is the sweetest and most mild of the cassia family. In general, it is the most common and cheapest type of cinnamon in the powder version. It contains around 4% Coumarin levels.
  • Saigon (Cinnamomum loureiroi, also known as Vietnamese cinnamon or Vietnamese cassia). It has a pronounced and complex aroma; is intensely fragrant and flavorful, almost spicy and widely used. Contains a high level of Coumarin at around 8%.
  • Chinese (Cinnamomum cassia or Chinese cinnamon). It is the most common commercial type available. This tree is originally from southern China, also found in Indonesia, the east part of Mayanmar, etc. It has a strong and bitter flavour. It is basically used in traditional Chinese medicine.    

Ceylon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), is known as “true cinnamon”. It is native to Sri Lanka; also found in India and other south Asian countries. Sri Lanka supplies nearly 90% of all Ceylon Cinnamon around the world. It has fragile layers rolled into a quill-like shape, crumbly and easily breaks into tiny pieces. Ceylon cinnamon is light brown coloured with a fragrant smell. It contains floral and citrus notes and produces a mild and subtle sweet taste. It contains only 0.04% Coumarin.

Comparison

 

 Ceylon Cinnamon

Saigon Cinnamon

Indonesian Cinnamon

Chinese Cinnamon

Scientific name

Cinnamomum Zeylanicum,
Cinnamomum Verum

Cinnamomum loureiroi

Cinnamomum burmannii

Cinnamomum cassia

Bark

Inside filled with thin concentric layers composed of multiple bark layers rolled like a cigar-quill

Hollow thick and hard layers, one thick piece of bark strip curled inward

Hollow thick and hard layers, one thick piece of bark strip curled inward

Thick and hard layer, one thick piece of bark strip slightly curled inward

Flavour

Smooth fragrant

Intensely fragrant

Slightly spicy

Bitter flavour

Taste

Sweet

Almost spicy

Sweet

Slightly spicy

Colour

Golden brown

Dark brown

Reddish dark brown

Between dark brown and tan

Texture

Smooth

Semi-rough

Semi-rough

Rough

Country of origin

Native of Sri Lanka

Native to Vietnam

Native to Indonesia

Native to China

Coumarin content

0.017g/Kg

6.97g/Kg

2.15g/Kg

0.31g/Kg

Positive

Delicate flavour, almost non-existent amount of Coumarin

Intense flavour

Cheap price

Cheap price

Negative

High price, not suitable for decoration

High Coumarin level

High Coumarin level

Quite high Coumarin level

 

Usage and health benefit

Cinnamon has been in use since ancient times is used since ancient time for different purposes. Nowadays is mainly used as an aromatic condiment and flavouring additive. The aroma and flavour of Cinnamon derive from essential oil which varies normally 0.5-4% depending on the plant, part of the plant had been used, the process, etc. The principal component of this oil is a cinnamic aldehyde, as well as numerous other components, including eugenol.

Medieval physicians used cinnamon to alleviate the symptoms of colds. Till today is frequently used in Chinese herbal medicine. It has numerous properties (phenolic compounds, flavonoids, isolated components, etc.) which have benefits for human health, and these are present in Cinnamon in the forms of bark, essential oils and bark powder. It has been also reported to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antifungal and analgesic properties.

Cinnamon has beauty benefits as well. It is applied in the cosmetics industry; can be used as a lip plumper, a face mask, a breath freshener, and a dry skin scrub.

Today the Cinnamon is widely used in different cuisines to enhance flavour and taste in its bark state (cinnamon sticks) or as powder. It is very common to find sweet and savoury dishes, breakfast cereals, Snack foods, tea, coffee and other different kind of beverages. In the United States, Cinnamon and sugar are often used to flavour cereals, bread-based dishes (such as toast), and fruits (especially apples); a cinnamon-sugar mixture is sold separately for such purposes.

The Cinnamon contains an organic chemical compound named Coumarin which in high concentrations can affect the liver, kidney, and metabolic functions in humans. The European Food Safety Authority recommends a maximum Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) of 0.1mg of Coumarin per kg of body weight which is 5mg for a bodyweight of 50 kg; but also advises that higher intake for a short period is not harmful. According to the European Union´s guideline, the maximum Coumarin content for foodstuffs is 50mg per kg of dough in seasonal foods and 15mg per kg in everyday baked foods.

 

C. Cassia

C. Verum
(Ceylon Cinnamon)

mg of Coumarin / g of Cinnamon

0.10–12.18

0.005 – 0.090

TDI Cinnamon at 50kg body weight

0.4–50 g

More than 50 g

Coumarin content details

 

Besides the texture, colour, taste and flavour, the content of Coumarin is the main difference between Ceylon Cinnamon and Cassia Cinnamon. Ceylon Cinnamon production process is mainly manual and labour intensive, its global production is far less (only about 8%) than the Cassia Cinnamons, and these are the reasons motives why it is more expensive.

Particularly in Indian cuisine, Cinnamon bark and powder is very commonly used to prepare all kinds of dishes. Cinnamon powder is mostly applied in dessert dishes, and normally the Ceylon Cinnamon is used. For all kinds of other dishes and in the Masalas the Cinnamon sticks are applied. During the dish preparation, normally the Cinnamon sticks are added to hot oil that helps spread its aroma. Before serving the dish, the Cinnamon sticks are separated and not eaten. So, in conclusion, it can be said that although in Indian cuisine the Cinnamon is widely used, the Coumarin content in Indian food is negligible.   

 

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