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Cinnamon - An herb with mysterious origins

SoVaNow.com / April 08, 2013
Cinnamon, originally from Sri Lanka formerly known as Ceylon, is known as kayu manis meaning sweet wood. Cinnamon, from the inner bark of certain trees of the genus Cinnamomum, is both a sweet and savory herb. Cinnamon has been known for centuries and is reported to have been imported to Egypt as early as 2000 BC.

There are numerous references to cinnamon in the Hebrew Bible. Moses is commanded to use cassia and sweet cinnamon in Holy anointing oil (Exodus 30:23). Cinnamon was used as an ingredient in Ketoret which was used in preparing consecrated incense used in the temple service in Jerusalem.

Proverbs 7 cautions against the ways of wicked women and describes in verse 17 how one particular woman has “perfumed her bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon”. The Song of Solomon describes the beautiful garden in Chapter 4:13 – 14, “Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits, henna with spikenard; Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon ... with all the chief spices”. And finally in Revelations 18:13, after the fall of Babylon, the merchants of the earth will mourn the end of commerce. The sale of “cinnamon and odours, and ointments ... and all things that which were dainty and goodly ... thou shalt find them no more”.

Cinnamon, known as Cinnamomum verum or C. zeylanicum in Latin, keenamon in Herbrew and darsini in Arabic, was highly prized by ancient cultures and was considered a gift fit for kings and even ancient gods. Although very expensive, the Roman Emperor Nero is reported to have burned a year’s worth of Rome’s supply of cinnamon at his wife’s, Poppeca Sabrina, funeral in AD 65. Although shipped from Egypt as early as 200 BC, cinnamon was so sought after that its source was kept a secret by shippers for many centuries. It was even told that cinnamon was fished out of the Nile River. Some classical authors even wrote that “giant cinnamon birds, who lived in Arabia, collected cinnamon sticks from an unknown land and used them in building their nests”.

The source of cinnamon was a mystery to the Western world through the Middle Ages. Finally, the monopoly on the spice trade by the Ottoman Empire and Venetian traders was disrupted by the Portuguese in 1518, who held a monopoly for cinnamon in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) for over a hundred years. The Dutch East India Company took over in the mid 1600s and began to cultivate cinnamon trees, as well as continue to harvest wild cinnamon. In 1796, the island fell to British rule, however in 1833, other countries began to grow cinnamon.

In 2006, 90% of the world’s cinnamon was produced in Sri Lanka according to the International Herald Tribune. Many other countries grow cinnamon including China, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Java, Sumatra, the West Indies, Brazil, Madagascar, Zanzibar and Egypt.

Cinnamon is allowed to grow for 2 years then cut off down to the root. The following year about a dozen new shoots will appear. These branches, which are harvested, have their outer bark scraped away and are then “hammered”. This must be done as soon as the bark is harvested, while still wet, to avoid the growth of pests and/or fermentation. This loosens the inner bark which separates and is dried in long rolls. The cinnamon is put on air drying racks for 4 – 6 hours and then cut into pieces 2” to approximately 4” in length for packaging and sale.

Research has been published regarding the benefits of cinnamon. Treatment of diabetes, arthritis, high cholesterol, memory function, lymphoma and leukemia and even as an anti-viral agent, are being explored. Consultation with a doctor is always recommended prior to taking any supplements to your diet.

Special thought: “The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature.” Anne Frank

Use as a condiment and spice in cooking and flavoring makes cinnamon so popular. In the United States it is used mainly in desserts and cereals and to flavor fruits, especially apples. Cinnamon sticks also make a wonderful spice for mulled hot cider. In the Middle East, cinnamon is used to flavor curries made of lamb or chicken.



Mexican Cinnamon Cookies

1 cup butter

1/2 cup confectionary sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

2 cup unbleached white flour

1 – 2 Tbsp of Milk as needed to moisten dough

1 cup confectionary sugar

1 tsp cinnamon



Cream butter and sugar with electric beater. Add cinnamon, salt, and vanilla.

Fold in the flour to form a stiff dough. Chill 1 to 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Form dough into 1” balls adding 1 – 2 Tbsp of milk as needed to moisten dough. Mix confectionary sugar and cinnamon, Roll the balls in the mixture. Bake the balls on a buttered cookie sheet for 15 to 20 minutes until browned. Cool.

The Southside Virginia Herb Society is a group of local enthusiasts interested in learning and sharing knowledge of gardening, crafting and cooking with herbs. Members come from Halifax, Mecklenburg, Lunenburg and Charlotte Counties. We meet on the third Saturday of the month. For more information contact Kathy at 434-454-4208 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)



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