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"Cinnamon Varieties" by David Dendy (Francesco Sirene).


NOTE: See also the files: cinnamon-msg, spices-msg, merch-spices-msg, herbs-msg, lavender-msg, p-herbals-msg, commerce-msg, saffron-msg, saffron-art.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I  have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I  have done  a limited amount  of  editing. Messages having to do  with separate topics  were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the  message IDs  were removed to save space and remove clutter.


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Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



Date: Thu, 16 Dec 1999 23:56:32 -0800

From: "David Dendy" <ddendy at silk.net>

Subject: SC - Cinnamon varieties (long)


Cinnamon Varieties

    by Francesco Sirene


There are a wide variety of types of cinnamon that have been used. In

present international trade, there are three main varieties available. 1]

Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) 2] Indonesian cinnamon/cassia

(Cinnamomum burmanii, usually) and 3] Chinese cassia (Cinnamomum cassia). If

you live in the United States or Canada, what you will find in your stores

as "Cinnamon" is the Indonesian variety; in most of the world the word

"cinnamon" today is reserved for Ceylon cinnamon, and the other varieties

are called "cassia" (and are sold separately). In China the indigenous

variety is used, but is unlikely to be called cinnamon -- rather it is known

under the Chinese name of "kwei".


Ceylon cinnamon is a pale tan colour, and comes in rolled quills made up of

many paper-thin layers of the bark rolled up in one another. It is quite

fragile, cinnamon-y but quite sweet. My experience is that many of my

customers like to eat it straight.


Indonesian cinnamon/cassia is more of a red-brown colour. It also comes in

quills, but each quill is a single roll of a bark the thickness of heavy

cardboard. The cinnamon-y flavour is stronger and almost pungent, and the

wood is harder.


Chinese cassia is usually quite dark brown. It normally comes not in rolled

quills but rather as irregular pieces of thick bark, some of which may be

partially curved and others flat. It has a very strong cinnamon-y flavour,

but little sweetness.


Which of these would you use in your recipe? Aha -- here is where the

historical argumentation comes in. At this time, I won't go into the issue

of whether the materials the Ancient Egyptians imported from Punt were

actually cinnamon, nor the issue of where the cinnamon and cassia the Greeks

and Romans imported via the Red Sea came from. These highly-contentious

issues are not actually relevant to the subject of the Cooks' List, since

the earliest reference to cinnamon or cassia being used in European cookery

do not come until the eighth century (the monks of St. Gall put it in fish

dishes). Before that time in Europe cinnamon and cassia were used only in

medicine and perfumery.


The name met with in European recipes is usually "cannell" or some

variation, based on description of the sticks (cannell - channel - canal . .

. all convey the idea of the grooved shape of the bark). Sometimes

"synamone" or some variant form carries over the idea of a superior variety,

as that was used by the Romans to distinguish the best.


In Arabic sources the confusion can catch up with you. "Darchini" is the

term most often used, for the more desired variety. The name is usually

taken to mean "wood of China" (thus, for example, in various translations of

Arabic cookbooks where the translators put "Chinese cinnamon" for this

word). However, the word was borrowed by the Arabs from Persian or India,

and probably the "chini" means "sweet" rather than "Chinese", so the actual

meaning would be "sweet-wood" (so the origin is less definite). The other

word commonly used, for a less expensive variety, was "kirfah", meaning

"bark". (A third term, "salikeh", denoted a clove-flavoured bark).


And what was the actual variety used in period? Almost certainly the usual

cinnamon available to users in early medieval Europe and the Middle East was

various sorts coming from north and western India, particularly Cinnamomum

tamala (tej) and Cinnamomum iners, neither of which are offered in

international trade today. There is no evidence to suggest Indonesian

cinnamon was coming west at that time, and the common assumption that

Chinese cassia was the "darchini" of the Arabs is also highly unlikely,

since the extensive Chinese records give not the slightest hint of a

westward export of kwei in this era. The various grades of cannell/synamon

and kirfah/darchini would be simply an empirical assessment of the pungency,

sweetness, and palatability (both Cinnamomum tamala and Cinnamomum iners are

extremely variable in flavour, depending on where and in what conditions

they grow). [Probably, in practical terms, at least until I line up a

supplier in India to get the two obscure varieties, your best substitute in

terms of flavour would be Indonesian cinnamon/cassia.]


All this changed in the late thirteenth century, when Ceylon first began to

export its variety of cinnamon (there is quite a story to why Ceylon

cinnamon only began to be exported at this time, involving the kings of

Ceylon needing to find a use for the tribute labour of a group of immigrants

who had been granted land, but I won't go into it here -- ask me if you want

the details). This new cinnamon from Ceylon was so much more desirable in

flavour that it quickly took over the darchini/synamon name used for the

"best" quality. This Ceylon cinnamon quickly became the desired variety, at

a cost several times that of ordinary cinnamon from India (so much so that

an English recipe for hypocras says to use synamome for lords, but that

cannell is good enough for commoners). So for recipes after the thirteenth

century, Ceylon cinnamon would be the choice of cooks if they could afford

it. [Crass commercial plug -- if you don't have a handy local source of

Ceylon cinnamon, you can buy it from us -- see our website URL in the

signature block].


Moving out of period, but still interesting, is the explanation for why the

usual North American spice is cassia, while Europe and most of the world

uses Ceylon cinnamon. This is a result of the American Revolution. The

newly-independent Americans quickly started their own trading ventures to

Asia in search of spices, but they could not get access to Indian and

Ceylonese supplies because India and Ceylon were in British hands (and the

British didn't allow foreign traders). Instead the Americans got their

pepper and other spices in the Indonesian islands, which were under rather

looser Dutch control -- and the cinnamon available there was the Indonesian

cinnamon/cassia variety. (The Americans also purchased some Chinese cassia.)


Yours garrulously,

Francesco Sirene

David Dendy / ddendy at silk.net

partner in Francesco Sirene, Spicer / sirene at silk.net

Visit our Website at http://www.silk.net/sirene/


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org