II sprinkled my bed with myrrh, with aloe and cinnamon, ”says Proverbs 7:17. The scripture has an erotic context – it warns against succumbing to improper seduction – and is arguably the earliest known mention of cinnamon. Because contrary to what Wikipedia and all kinds of health Youtubers claim: The ancient Egyptians did not know the spice, not even as a remedy. Only after the Greeks used cinnamon around 300 BC. Brought around to the Nile, it is mentioned in procedures for mummification, “to spread fragrance”, as Didodorus Siculus says, which, however, in the first century BC. Chr. Already believed that an “ancient recipe” would be followed.
What the Egyptians knew, on the other hand, was camphor. This product of various bay, daisy or mint plants has a less pre-Christmas scent than cinnamon. In fact, chemically, camphor differs significantly from cinnamaldehyde, the main aroma in the sticks for mulled wine or powder for cinnamon stars. Nevertheless, there is still another connection between the two than speculation about ancient Egyptian pharmacy: Camphor was later also for the western market mainly from the wood of the East Asian camphor tree Cinnamomum camphora won – and this laurel plant belongs to the same genus as those trees whose inner bark is made of typical cinnamon sticks.
Where the real cinnamon comes from
Well among the more than 300 there are Cinnamomum-Several types with bark containing cinnamaldehyde. Herodotus already made a distinction in the fifth century BC. BC in the earliest Greek mention of cinnamon clearly between “kasíē”, which grows in a “shallow lake” and is guarded by bat-like creatures, and “kinámōmon”, whose origin is unknown to him. “It is said that large birds gathered the dry poles,” writes Herodotus. “They carry them to nests attached to high cliffs with clay.” In order to get the cinnamon anyway, the Arabs would lay out heavy meat baits, with which the birds would overload their nests until they fell down and the cinnamon sticks could be picked up. Five hundred years later, the Roman Pliny would write that all of these stories were “invented to drive up prices”. But for Pliny, too, cassia and cinnamomum, as he now calls them, were different products whose origin he wrongly suspected in Ethiopia.
In fact, the real cinnamon comes True Cinnamon, from Ceylon alias Sri Lanka. Cassia, on the other hand, is a collective name for products of the species C. cassia from China, C. loureiro from Vietnam and C. burmannii from Indonesia. Cassia now accounts for almost ninety percent of world production; Cinnamon on supermarket shelves and commercially available baked goods is almost always cassia, mostly from Indonesia.
Ceylon cinnamon, on the other hand, is significantly more expensive, also because the peeling of the bark, which is still done by hand, is much more expensive here. But it contains almost no coumarin: This substance, which is liver-damaging in large quantities, caused a stir in 2006 when food inspectors criticized the exceeding of the limit values in commercially available cinnamon stars. It is now clear that healthy adults who eat no more than 120 grams of cinnamon-containing finished products a day have nothing to fear. For the local Christmas bakery, switching to Ceylon cinnamon is only an option to a limited extent, as the coumarin, which is also typical for the woodruff taste, is part of the Advent flavor. But if you want a daily pinch of cinnamon in your muesli outside of Christmas time, you should get the powder from Ceylon.