Cinnamon is the most-ancient spice associated with humankind. Back in the Egyptian era cinnamon was a rare spice fit for kings. From being used as an anointing oil to an embalming blend to succour mummification, this exotic spice served several purposes. As time passed by, more benefits of this covetous spice were discovered, including its genius medicinal qualities. While the royals applied cinnamon to their food, medicines and personal fragrances, the ancient Greeks used it as a prayer offering and even as a currency. Such was the excellence of its disposition! Tales tell this spice made a grand appearance in 2000 BC. Asclepiades, who was practising medicine in that era, started, recommending cinnamon, to treat diarrhoea, appetite issues and minor injuries. Soon the success of the prescriptions promulgated and this holistic spice was received, as a popular medicine.
Cinnamon is classified, into two varieties; Cassia and Ceylon. While Cassia is of low-quality, Ceylon, on the other hand, trailblazes the truest-qualities of cinnamon. Indigenous to Sri Lanka, Ceylon Cinnamon is an exotic and covetous spice that finds its mention in Chinese writings dating back to 2800 BC. In Cantonese, cinnamon is called Kwai. This spice has intrigued me forever, so on a trip to Sri Lanka in November 2019, I travelled to Rathnapura to visit one of Ayagama’s Cinnamon factories. Close to Colombo, Ayagama is an impoverished village, that has its own cinnamon charm that attracts passing by tourists. On a bright sunny afternoon, I arrived at the Samarakkody Holdings factory to take a good look at the manufacturing process of the Ceylon Cinnamon. This factory pioneers the concept of single-origin cinnamon, meaning they use a vertically integrated system to run the process of farming and in-house packaging.
Cloaked by a lush hillside, this small factory gives the impression of a log cabin from a distance. (A green log cabin!) While approaching the premises, I noticed several petite bundles of raw cinnamon twigs landscaping the front yard. In 2018, this factory was founded by Priyantha and Shantha Samarakkody, who branded it, BrownGold Cinnamon, after the colour and the texture of the spice. Nipun Samarakkody showed me around. In under four hours, I noted how a bark of a Cinnamomum Verum tree is converted to, well-refined and equally sized cinnamon quills. Other value-added products this factory produces are cinnamon sticks, powder and oil. Each exported to seven countries, South Korea being the principal purchaser. Koreans have porcelain skin, and I have heard that Sujeonggwa, a type of Korean cinnamon punch helps them glow. The antibacterial, antioxidant and anti-fungal properties of cinnamon work effectively against skin blemishes. It is one spice that supports blood flow and removes acne without drying out the skin. Which, is why it’s also called Cleopatra’s spice.
Garden fresh, unblended cinnamon is the hallmark of the finest on earth. So I learnt, on the ground floor, where a few workers were shaving the outer and the inner barks of the homegrown trees. During the walk-through, Nipun explained, how this soft tan-brown cinnamon with a delicate sweet flavour, has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. He said, “The rhetorical benefits are holistic yet have benefited many generations. Ceylon or true cinnamon keeps sugar in control, improves metabolism, increases insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar spikes.” We walked into another room as we talked. Here wooden workstations were arrayed in succession, occupied by women fitting the dried, curled up cinnamon into organised quills. Later, they regulate the quills into sticks. In most Indian households, these sticks are grounded into cinnamon powder and added to nearly all the special-seasonal dishes.
The more talking led to Nipun revealing how Ceylon cinnamon is also beneficial for dealing with neurodegenerative diseases. Worldwide reports have confirmed that this spice cures both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The bioactive compounds of cinnamon block the Tau Protein from accumulating in the brain. Thus by blocking Tau protein, Alzheimer is abandoned altogether. Ceylon Cinnamon is also loaded, with essential antioxidants that protect us from oxidative damage. This natural ingredient is so powerful that it can heal inflammation, fight infections and even repair tissue damage. Or reduce the levels of cholesterol, the risk of getting a heart disease or lessening the growth of cancer cells. Cinnamon has countless medicinal benefits apart from just being a food preservative. It takes down the formation of toxic blood vessels in tumours, activates detoxifying enzymes in the colon, and Cinnamaldehyde, its main active component helps fight bacterial and fungal infections.
Cinnamon oil, is effective in treating respiratory tract infections caused by fungi and in fighting HIV that gradually breaks down the immune system. The distinctive smell and flavour of cinnamon arise from Cinnamaldehyde. Even the Christian Bible speaks briefly about cinnamon. Europeans use it as a food flavour and for religious rites. In fact, in the middle age, Europeans used cinnamon as a kind of status symbol. Back then, only affluent could get their hands on this exotic spice from the East. From curative powers to medicinal potentiality, Cinnamon played a key role, in Europe’s expansion to Asia. Today its an ‘essentially’ popular staple spice of most kitchens.
Nipun concluded the factory tour by sharing how they are dedicated, to developing the community. This factory, funded by the world bank, is built under the agriculture modernisation program and allocates 5% of its sales to develop farmer education and organic farming. I was touched! I spent the rest of the afternoon brunching and chit-chatting with the family. They treated me to some of Sri Lanka’s most-authentic home food and even gave me a large parcel of cinnamon sticks as the parting gift. What a sweet family! If you ever happen to cross Ayagama during your Sri Lanka visit, make sure to drop by this factory to say hello to the Samarakkody’s.