I always love a dash of cinnamon in my coffee or to compliment other spices, and since cinnamon is one of the most popular spices in the US, it’s likely that you do too. Every time you grab the cinnamon at Starbucks or your grocery store though, it’s just as likely that you’re not using real cinnamon, but one of its cousins.
Cinnamon is one of the oldest known spices, being mentioned in imports to Egypt in 2000 BCE. It’s mentioned specifically in the Talmud, and was considered a precious gift—keep in mind this is before spices were easily obtainable, and their origins and how they found their way to the table were just as exotic as their flavors. Hundreds of years before Columbus sailed on his quest for spices, no one at the end of the spice trade was sure where exactly their cinnamon came from, and since much of the world was a complete mystery to the average customer, anything seemed feasible.
Customer: You’re right, I love it! How much?
C: Robbery! Surely it’s not worth that much.
C: I have heard of these exotic lands, and can only imagine the many horrid beasts that live there! This cinnamon bird sounds terrifying, and to face it must indeed have taken true bravery!
SM: I know, right? Which is why this cinnamon is so expensive. Make sense now?
C: It does, it truly does. I can’t believe I doubted its worth before. Here, take all my coins—I’ll get the rest to you next week!
Stories of the cinnamon bird were passed down and varied for hundreds of years, until people started to suspect that maybe, just maybe, this was a big fat lie concocted by merchants to drive up the price of cinnamon, and no giant, ox-eating birds were actually involved. By this point, however, Italians had a monopoly on the spice trade and the average merchant or customer had no choice but to pay whatever price was quoted. Eventually other European countries decided they’d had enough paying for overpriced spices, and that it was worth the risk to send out the crews and ships in search for their own routes to exotic lands.
|Cinnamomum verum, "true cinnamon"|
|Cinnamomum aromaticum, cassia|
Ceylon cinnamon is certainly still available, it just takes a little more effort and money to purchase it. After all this time tasting cassia, however, the general population is more used to it and expects that strong cinnamon taste, preferring it to the subtler flavors of Ceylon cinnamon. Nobody tell the cinnamon bird though—it’ll be irritated it built and lost all those nests for nothing.