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Cinammon in the air

人民网 2015-12-15 16:14

Cinammon in the air

Cinnamon flavors the holiday season from decorative sweets to soul-warming mulled wine. [Photoprovided to China Daily]

You can't make gingerbread without it. Or pumpkin pie. Or mulled wine. Or those glazed sweetpotatoes that find their way to holiday tables at the end of December.

  "It", of course, is cinnamon, a bestseller on grocery shelves. Second globally only to black pepperamong the spices, according to US food giant McCormick, cinnamon was once rare indeed, aflavoring so prized that medieval traders literally died to collect the tree bark that produces it.

  Foodies know that there are several "kinds" of cinnamon. Cinnamomum verum, the "truecinnamon" from Sri Lanka that is harvested from only the inner bark, made the island once knownas Ceylon a hot spot for traders along the early Silk Road. More common varieties with astronger flavor come from related species, also coveted by traders for centuries, that are oftencollectively referred to as "cassia" to avoid confusion with the more potent (and expensive) SriLankan species.

  As early as the 5th century BCE, Herodotus wrote in his Histories that the "Arabians" obtainedcassia by traveling to a great lake and gathering branches and bark on the shores. However,those shores were patrolled by huge batlike, winged creatures which screeched horribly andattacked the spice gatherers. In other accounts, giant snakes guarded the treasure groves ofthese fragrant shrubs. Considerable heroics thus were required of the harvesters, who-as thestories go-left a portion of what they collected as an offering to the sun god who presumablyprotected them from these predatory guardians. These tales were not merely the embellishedaccounts of intrepid travelers: They were crafted by traders to help keep the price of the spicehigh, and to keep away rival seafarers.

  More credible lore about cinnamon is strictly culinary.