Cinnamon is the most ancient known spice to mankind. In fact, 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, cinnamon had several purposes. As time passed by, more benefits of this covetous spice were discovered, including its genius medicinal qualities. The royals consumed cinnamon in food, medicines and even used it as a personal fragrance. In contrast, the ancient Greeks used cinnamon as a prayer offering, as well as a currency. Such was the excellence of its disposition! Legends have it, that cinnamon made a grand appearance in 2000 BC. Asclepiades, practising medicine in that era had begun to recommend cinnamon to soothe diarrhoea, stimulate appetite and even heal minor injuries. Soon the success of the prescriptions, promulgated and cinnamon, the holistic spice, got ready to battle various diseases, irrespective of the symptoms.
Cinnamon is classified, into two varieties; Cassia and Ceylon. While Cassia is of low-quality, Ceylon, on the other hand, trailblazes the truest cinnamon quality. Indigenous to Sri Lanka, Ceylon Cinnamon is an exotic and covetous spice that finds its mention in Chinese writings dating back to 2800 B.C. In Cantonese, cinnamon is called Kwai. This spice has intrigued me forever, so on a recent trip to Sri Lanka, in November 2019, I made an exclusive trip to a Ceylon Cinnamon factory in Ayagama, Rathnapura. Ayagama is one of the poorest villages near Colombo, however, cultivation of cinnamon makes it a rich resource worth digging.
I arrived at the Samarakkody Holdings factory in the afternoon so that I could take a good look at the manufacturing process of the Ceylon Cinnamon. The reason why I chose this factory is that they pioneer the concept of single-origin cinnamon. Meaning, they use a vertically integrated system, running the process of farming and packaging in-house. Enwrapped with a blanket of a lush hillside, this small factory gives the impression of a green log cabin from a slight distance. As I approached the premises, I noticed a tropical habitat of cinnamon plantation adorning the front yard of the establishment. I was amazed by the beautiful view. But more amazed by the foundation story of this excellent facility. This unit was established by two women, Priyantha and Shantha Samarakkody in 2018. They decided to call their brand – BrownGold Cinnamon, after the colour and the texture of the spice.
The tour kicked off with Nipun Samarakkody showing me around. In under four hours, I perceived how a bark of a Cinnamomum Verum tree is turned into well-refined and equally sized cinnamon quills. Some of the other value-added products produced at this factory are cinnamon sticks, powder, and oil. Each exported to 7 countries, with South Korea being the prime 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 cinnamon is also called Cleopatra’s spice.
Garden fresh, unblended cinnamon is the hallmark of the finest on earth. So I learned, on the ground floor, where farmers and workers were shaving the outer and the inner bark of the homegrown trees. During the walk-through, Nipun told me how this soft tan-brown cinnamon with a delicate sweet flavour, has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine. These rhetorical benefits are holistic, in nature but have seemed to benefit many generations. Talking about benefits, Ceylon or true cinnamon keeps blood sugar in control, which works as an anti-diabetic-dote for diabetes. It also improves metabolism, increases insulin sensitivity and lowers blood sugar spikes, he said. By this time, we had arrived in another room, with a string of workstations. Each workstation was occupied, by women who were arranging the dried, curled up cinnamon into organised quills. These quills are further cut into sticks. The sticks are then grounded into cinnamon powder.
As we walked and talked, I also learned that Ceylon cinnamon is also beneficial for dealing with neurodegenerative diseases. It tries to cure both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. The bioactive compounds of cinnamon block the Tau Protein from accumulating in the brain. Tau protein results in Alzheimer’s and by blocking it, the disease can be dropped altogether. Ceylon Cinnamon is also a clear winner with regards to antioxidants that protect us from oxidative damage. This natural food preservative is so powerful that it can heal inflammation, fight infections and even repair tissue damage. Not just that, cinnamon also, reduces the levels of cholesterol, as well as, the risk of getting a heart disease.
Studies suggest that cinnamon also reduces the growth of cancer cells. It brings down the formation of blood vessels in tumours that appear toxic. It is a potent activator of detoxifying enzymes in the colon, lessening cancer growth. As well, Cinnamaldehyde, one of the main active components of cinnamon, helps fight bacterial and fungal infections. Cinnamon oil, in particular, is effective in treating respiratory tract infections caused by fungi. Furthermore, cinnamon also fights the HIV virus that slowly breaks down our immune system. Who knew a spice so delicious, and healthy could have a plethora of health benefits? Incidentally, the distinctive smell and flavour of cinnamon originate from Cinnamaldehyde, a compound that in simple words, is cinnamon oil.
Even the Christian Bible speaks briefly about cinnamon. Europeans use it as a food flavour and for religious rites. As a matter of 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 conversation and the factory tour by sharing how their factory emphasises on community development. This factory, built under the agriculture modernisation program, funded by the world bank, allocates 5% of its sales to develop farmer education and organic farming. I was touched by the heartwarming story of this small, yet, authentic cinnamon factory. Given the extraordinary benefits of Ceylon Cinnamon, it’s safe to say that this spice does help strengthen immunity. This immunity warrior is my shield against all autoimmune diseases including the current pandemic. All it takes is adding a pinch of cinnamon to my regular food every day.