How Cinnamon Works

Harvesting and Production of Cinnamon

Cinnamon trees are cut down to stump size when they're around two years old.

Sri Lanka produces much of the world's Ceylon cinnamon, even though the tree is also commercially grown in Brazil, the Caribbean and India. A great deal of cassia cinnamon comes from Indonesia, although the tree is also grown in Vietnam, China and Burma [sources: Britannica: Cinnamon, Britannica: Cassia].

When a cinnamon tree is around two years old, cultivators coppice, or cut back, the plant to the size of a stump and cover it with soil. This technique causes it to grow like a bush, with new shoots emerging out of the sides by the following year. It's these shoots that are used to make cinnamon. Once cut, the shoots are stripped of their bark and the peels are set out to dry in the sun. As this happens, the bark naturally curls into quills (sticks) [source: Indian Institute of Spices Research].


Once dried, the quills can be cut into sticks and packaged according to a set of shared qualities. The Sri Lankan grading system, for example, divides the quills into four sizes: Alba, which is 0.2 inches (6 millimeters) or less in diameter; Continental, which is around 0.6 inches (16 millimeters); Mexican, which is nearly 0.8 inches (19 millimeters); and Hamburg, which is about 1.3 inches (32 millimeters) [source: Practicalaction].

Ceylon cinnamon is usually sold in quill form, and it is characterized by a sweet smell and light brown color. It's thin and has a crumbling texture, so it can be ground easily, using a coffee grinder. Cassia cinnamon can be found in a variety of forms, the most common of which is ground cinnamon, but it's generally too hard to grind at home.

In addition to being used for baking, cinnamon flavoring and essential oils often end up in products such as cinnamon supplements and cinnamon-scented bath products, too. To find out more about cinnamon's many uses, read on.