We can’t get enough of cinnamon. It’s just so versatile – equally happy as a snug wintry warmer, or a spicy invigorator. Cinnamon is a spice that teaches other flavors new tricks: it can bring out the accents in mango or pineapple; subtly point carrot or banana in new directions. Does it taste even better knowing that cinnamon is an anti-diabetic and antioxidant? That even small daily doses reduce ‘bad’ cholesterol while, in some studies, raising the ‘good’? We think so. And knowing its incredible role in history makes it richer still.
Cinnamon is made from the dried bark of several species of South East Asian tree. Originally, cinnamon only grew in Sri Lanka, and thousands of years ago it was so desirable that it became one of the key global trading commodities, in demand across Egypt, China and the Middle East. Part of its mystery was that, apart from the Arab traders who sold it, few knew where cinnamon came from, and those traders did their best to keep the secret. They invented wild stories about the spice’s origin, claiming it came from the nests of giant birds, or from landscapes guarded by snakes. When cinnamon became a status symbol in Medieval Europe, it was a major motive for the Portuguese conquest of Sri Lanka – the start of a centuries-long struggle by colonial powers seeking to exploit its riches. These days, cinnamon is also grown in several other countries, but Sri Lanka is still the go-to place if you want the finest cinnamon in the world.
Demand for cinnamon wasn’t built on taste alone: as long as 3,500 years ago the Egyptians were using cinnamon for its health-promoting properties. Cleopatra used its oils as a part of her own ‘self-care’ ritual – and kept the spice in her arsenal of aphrodisiacs. And in some Greek legends surrounding the Phoenix, that magical bird uses cinnamon twigs to build the nest in which it is reborn.
Modern-day science can confirm some of these restorative properties. We’d probably use cinnamon in kencko for its scrumptious zing regardless – but it sure doesn’t hurt that cinnamon is, as one peer-reviewed study put it, ‘the eternal tree of tropical medicine’. Cinnamon has been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, lipid-lowering and many other helpful properties – it’s even reported to be active against neurological disorders and cancer. The spice’s benefit as an anti-diabetic agent is increasingly touted, too.
Next time you try the zippy, anti-aging kencko Blacks or the lush, mind-clearing Yellows, look out for the soft, sweet warmth of the finest Sri Lankan cinnamon. Perhaps you’ll feel your energy rising like the Phoenix, or channel a little sexy Cleopatra energy… either way, you’ll definitely get a tasty boost to your day!