Ever since I visited Sri Lanka a few years ago, the country has for me been associated with an abundance of spices and fragrances. Scents of freshly ground black pepper, grated coconut, lemongrass and crushed cardamom fill me with fragrant travel memories, but one spice has become more associated with Sri Lanka for me than any other. Cinnamon. This exotic spice that has become such an obvious part of some of our most loved Swedish pastries and Christmas traditions.
Sri Lanka has a tropical climate and in the southwestern parts of the country it rains the most. It is hot, very humid and the greenery is thick and lush. The bush-like and moisture-demanding tree thrives here Cinnamonum verum – the tree used to produce the true cinnamon ceylon cinnamon. Cinnamon has been a major commodity in Sri Lanka ever since the 17th century when the Portuguese discovered cinnamon growing wild here and began exporting to Europe. Although there are several other types of cinnamon trees in China, Vietnam and Indonesia, among others, it is only here in Sri Lanka that the true cinnamon grows.
I certainly passed by a large number of cinnamon plantations on my travels in Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Indonesia, but I did not realize that it was cinnamon trees that I saw. I have probably always imagined the cinnamon tree as a well-grown tree with reddish-brown and rough bark, much like a large cinnamon stick. But how wrong I have been. A cinnamon tree is more like a full-grown shrub, with leaves that look rather like sheer benjamin ficus.
Growing cinnamon requires patience. From the time a seed is sown, it takes four years before the first harvest. Tree branches and trunks are cut down and then processed manually. The harvest takes place in the early morning, when the bark is still moist. First, the outermost layer of the bark is scraped away, much like peeling a potato. Then the inner bark layer is cut off and that is what then becomes cinnamon. The bark is allowed to dry in the sun and then rolls up into small rolls in a few minutes.
After the cinnamon has been allowed to dry for a few days, it is sent on for final processing and grading. The thinner the bark, the more valuable. The finest gradation is Alba, where the thin cinnamon rolled is about the thickness of a pencil. The thicker the bark, the lower the classification. The lowest grade becomes ground cinnamon.
True cinnamon or not?
We eat large amounts of cinnamon in Sweden, but usually the cinnamon sold in Sweden is so-called cassia cinnamon. You might think "cinnamon like cinnamon", but there are relatively big differences between Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon. Not only on taste, but also on coumarin content.
Coumarin is a substance that can be harmful to the liver if consumed in large amounts over a long period of time. Cassia cinnamon contains large amounts of coumarin (5%), while Ceylon cinnamon only contains small amounts (0,04%). The Swedish Food Agency has issued a recommendation that you as an adult should not eat more than 1,5 teaspoons of cassia cinnamon a day. There are no recommendations for Ceylon cinnamon, as the amount of coumarin is so small. But the different types of cinnamon differ in many more ways.
Which cinnamon goes best with the Christmas porridge?
Ceylon cinnamon is light brown and the stick is soft and rolled in a lot of thin layers. The taste is subtle, mild and pleasant and almost a little sweet. According to my taste buds, the perfect cinnamon for the warm rice porridge on Christmas Eve.
Cassia cinnamon is darker reddish brown, with a hard stick with thick bark that is difficult to break off. The taste is stronger, sharper and slightly burning. However, cassia cinnamon is significantly cheaper and easier to get hold of than Ceylon cinnamon.
Personally, I prefer the mild taste of Ceylon cinnamon over cassia cinnamon, but it's all a matter of taste, preference, area of use and coumarin content. However, it can be quite a fun taste experiment to serve two different types of cinnamon with the porridge on Christmas Eve and see which one is most appreciated!
Which cinnamon do you have in your kitchen and which cinnamon will you serve with the Christmas porridge this year?
Have you been here? What did you think of the destination?
Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 55 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel blog Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.