Cinnamon used to be more valuable than gold

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by Staff
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The woody, warming spice we sprinkle with abandon on top of holiday cookies, baked goods, and seasonal coffees is native to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and India. But very few people knew where cinnamon came from when merchants first began selling spices throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa as far back as 3,000 years ago — and spice traders capitalized on that lack of knowledge to charge high prices. Harvested from the inner bark of Cinnamomum trees, cinnamon has been used for thousands of years as medicine, for religious practices and funerals, and in cuisine, but with a big price tag: It was once considered more precious than gold.

In an effort to conceal cinnamon’s origins from competitors and explain the extravagant markup to customers, spice traders of the past provided elaborate backstories. By some fifth-century accounts, cinnamon traders asserted that collecting the spice was a dangerous task thanks to angry “winged creatures” that lived in the trees; cinnamon harvesters supposedly donned protective outerwear made of thick hides and risked their personal safety to collect a few measly pieces of cinnamon bark. Other vendors claimed cinnamon was transported from far-off lands by birds who used it as nesting material. (In this tale, harvesting cinnamon sticks from nests required a cow sacrifice to provide the birds with a meaty distraction.) Yet another story declared that cinnamon grew in dangerous, snake-infested valleys. Cinnamon’s origins remained an enigma for centuries, but luckily for chefs and bakers today, the secret eventually got out thanks to global exploration brought on by a surging interest in spices. Now, the flavoring is a low-cost mainstay in modern pantries.

Media Release/InterestingFacts

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