It's difficult to know exactly how long people have known of cinnamon, but there are some early written records of its use. The Christian Bible mentions cinnamon at least a couple of times -- when Moses uses it as part of anointing oil, for example. Some experts say that Egyptians also used the spice for many tasks -- such as embalming -- that may seem unusual, considering its current reputation as a kitchen item. Europeans used it both to add flavor to food and for certain religious rites [sources: Indian Institute of Spices, Britannica: Cinnamon]. Many accounts say that the Emperor Nero added a large amount of cinnamon to the funeral pyre for his wife, Poppaea Sabina, in 65 AD, in order to mask the scent of her body burning [sources: Klein, Osborne]. This was a common technique used at funerals in ancient Rome.
During the Middle Ages, Europeans began to regard cinnamon as a kind of status symbol, the reasoning being that only a very wealthy person could manage to obtain an exotic spice from the East. However, many scholars believe that, bragging rights aside, well-to-do Europeans needed the spice for a very practical reason: They used it to cover up the smell of cured meat, which often spoiled during the winter [source: Osborne]. Even then, however, some people believed that cinnamon had curative powers, too, and used the spice to treat conditions such as indigestion.
Cinnamon, along with spices like clove and nutmeg, eventually played a key role in Europe's expansion into Asia, as well. By the 17th century, cinnamon had become the most profitable spice in the Dutch East India Company trade [source: Britannica: Cinnamon]. Today it may not be as well known for its economic impact, but cinnamon is still a popular, perhaps essential, staple in most contemporary kitchens.
To find out lots more information on cinnamon, follow the links below.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- ABC. "Dangerous Cinnamon Challenge." ABC 33/40 (Affiliate). (Accessed Nov. 17, 2009)http://cfc.abc3340.com/videoondemand.cfm?id=48822&category=toa
- Atta-ur-Rahman, M.Iqbal Choudhary, Afgan Farooq, Aftab Ahmed, M. Zafar Iqbal, Betül Demirci, Fatih Demirci and K. Hüsnü Can Baser. Antifungal Activities and Essential Oil Constituents of Some Spices from Pakistan. 1999. http://pages.unibas.ch/mdpi/ecsoc-3/d0002/d0002.html
- BBC News. "In Pictures: Sri Lanka's Spice for Life." (Accessed Nov. 17, 2009) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/picture_gallery/07/south_asia_sri_lanka0s_spice_of_life/html/5.stm
- Corn, Charles. The Scents of Eden: A Narrative of the Spice Trade. Kodansha America. 1998.
- Cosmetics and Toiletries. "Natural Preservation Based on Ayurveda." April 10, 2009. (Accessed Nov. 17, 2009) http://www.cosmeticsandtoiletries.com/formulating/ingredient/preservatives/42799977.html
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- Encyclopedia Britannica."Cassia." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 2009. (Accessed Nov. 17, 2009) http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article-9020650
- Encyclopedia Britannica. "Cinnamon." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 2009. (Accessed Nov. 17, 2009)http://www.search.eb.com/eb/article-9082675
- Food Navigator. "Cinnamon to Keep the Brain Alert." Foodnavigator.com. April 5, 2004.http://www.foodnavigator.com/Science-Nutrition/Cinnamon-to-keep-the-brain-alert
- George Mateljan Foundation. "Cinnamon, ground."http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=68
- Gorss, Jason. "Cinnamon Oil Kills Mosquitos." Medical News Today. July 14, 2004. (Accessed Nov. 14, 2009) http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/11053.php
- Indian Institute of Spices Research. "Cinnamon." Indian Council of Agricultural Research. (Accessed Nov. 17, 2009) http://www.spices.res.in/package/index.php?spice=Cinnamon&body=Overview
- Khan A, Safdar M, Ali Khan MM, Khattak KN, Anderson RA. "Cinnamon improves glucose and lipids of people with type 2 diabetes". Diabetes Care 26 (12): 3215-8. 2005http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/12/3215.long
- Klein, Richard. "The Green World: An Introduction to Plants and People." Harpercollins College Div. 1987
- MedlinePlus. "Antioxidants." U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health. October 14, 2009. (Accessed Nov. 17, 2009) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/antioxidants.html
- Osborne, Troy David. "A Taste of Paradise: Cinnamon." University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. December 7, 2000. (Accessed Nov. 17, 2009) http://bell.lib.umn.edu/Products/cinnamon.html
- Scott, Keith, MD. Medicinal Seasonings: The Healing Power of Spices. BookSurge Publishing. 2006
- Burnham, Paul M. "Cinnamaldehyde." University of Bristol, School of Chemistry.http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/cinnamaldehyde/cinnc.htm