|This is the cappuccino my friend ordered in NO Joke Cofee, a coffeeshop in Tianjin, China. Please note the cigar-like cinnamon stick on the side...|
We don’t use cinnamon at home for daily cooking, and so I believed that cinnamon is only for glazing breads. This belief remained had I not bought Chinese Five Spice in Thailand. And so, I learned that cinnamon is one of the five ingredients and the five-spice can throw one’s braised beef in a whole new light considering we only use the usual salt and pepper. I rub five-spice in my chicken, fish and favorite vegetables before grilling or frying. I fell in love with five-spice and its fragrant component, cinnamon.
Long after that and long before I headed to China for a vacation, I read an interesting note on cinnamon in the book of compiled columns of Filipino historian Ambeth Ocampo entitled, Chulalongkorn’s Elephants (The Philippines in Asian History, Looking Back 4).
In one column entitled Walang Cuenta (No Value), Miguel Lopez de Legaspi’s report to King Philip II dated July 1567 was quoted and it goes, “In other islands there is an abundance of cinnamon, of which they make little use. They make no exportation of it, and therefore, it is of little worth to them. Seventy quintals of it have been carried upon this ship for your majesty; and there may be carried every year as much as your majesty wishes – enough indeed to supply all Christendom.” For your quick information 70 quintals is 7 tons. Given the promise of Legaspi that he can supply all Christendom, cinnamon must be abundant in our country then.
In the same piece, Ocampo mentioned that Legazpi was based in Cebu and since Legaspi reported that there are abundance of cinnamon in other islands, I fancied that he must be referring to other nearby islands like where I come from, Negros.
While I have seen some cinnamon sticks in the grocery store back home, it is not always available compared to its powdered version. So, before I went home from vacation in China, I bought cinnamon sticks. My Complete Idiot’s Guide on Spices and Herbs says that cinnamon (cinnamomum verum) and cassia (cinnamomum aromaticum) both comes from Asian Evergreen trees and while their actual flavors are similar, they are easily distinguishable when tasted side by side. As a tip, the book reminds that a Cassia Stick is hard and the true Cinnamon is brittle. So I am thinking now that I bought Cassia sticks and not the true cinnamon; but I swear, they smell like the store-bought cinnamon bread.
I just can’t resist quoting a portion of Wikipedia pointing out that cinnamon and cassia are not the same and as to the history of cinnamon which gives me a bird’s eye view on the import of such a spice.
“Cinnamon has been known from remote antiquity. It was imported to Egypt as early as 2000 BC, but those who report that it had come from China confuse it with cassia.
The Hebrew Bible makes specific mention of the spice many times: first when Moses is commanded to use both sweet cinnamon (Hebrew: קִנָּמוֹן, qinnāmôn) and cassia in the holy anointing oil; in Proverbs where the lover's bed is perfumed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon; and in Song of Solomon, a song describing the beauty of his beloved, cinnamon scents her garments like the smell of Lebanon. Cinnamon was a component of the Ketoret which is used when referring to the consecrated incense described in the Hebrew Bible and Talmud. It was offered on the specialized incense altar in the time when the Tabernacle was located in the First and Second Jerusalem Temples. The ketoret was an important component of the Temple service in Jerusalem.”
And so, this led me to ask what kind must have been growing in our country? And which Islands did Legazpi refer to in his report? Google led me to an unfinished Wikipedia entry on Cinnamomum cebuense, the Cebu Cinnamon tree. It says that this is a “species of cinnamon endemic to Cebu Island, Philippines. It was first discovered in Cantipla, Cebu in mid-1980s and described by Kostermanns in 1986. The tree is endemic to the Island of Cebu but several trees are found in the neighboring islands of Camotes and Siquijor.” And several clicks led me to a recent local news reporting that there are only about 800 of them growing and only about 40 mother trees and there is a need to save them from extinction. Meanwhile, a blog led me to another species of cinnamon growing in our country, Cinnamomum mercadoi (or kalingag) tree.
One interesting site discussed Cinnamon Route to have its ultimate origin in Southeast Asia. It points out that “the famed spices which traveled from Africa to the Arabian traders and from thence to the markets of the classical Mediterranean world had their ultimate origin in Southeast Asia. The aromatic trail known as the “Cinnamon Route” began somewhere in the Malay Archipelago, romantically known as the “East Indies,” and crossed the Indian Ocean to the southeastern coast of Africa. The spices may have landed initially at Madagascar and they eventually were transported to the East African trading ports in and around the city known in Greco-Roman literature as Rhapta. Merchants then moved the commodities northward along the coast. In Roman times, they traveled to Adulis in Ethiopia and then to Muza in Yemen and finally to Berenike in Egypt. From Egypt they made their way to all the markets of Europe and West Asia.”
So these all make me say that there are a lot of cinnamon trees… and all I can distinguish is the whiff of cinnamon bread from the bakery. Poor me.
And while I was thinking now that we, Filipinos, should be acquainted with this spice called cinnamon in the first place because before the Spaniards came, we have it already, it reminded me that THIS SPICE got the best out of our ignorance: My friend, who ordered cappuccino in China, munched the cinnamon stick which should have had served as stirrer, thinking it was a chocolate-flavored barquillos. I must confess, I thought it was a chocolate-flavored barquillos too. No Joke coffeshop in Tianjin is no joke indeed. No joke is intended when we confessed that we are acquainted with this Spanish thin cookie more than THIS SPICE that was said to abound our islands.
|The Cinnamon Stick and its powder version. Photo from Wikipedia|
|The Barquillos, Spanish thin cookies. Photo from Wikipedia|