(Cinnamomum aromaticum Nees)
is a spice made from the bark an evergreen tree native to southern China, a close relative
to the Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)
and Camphor (Cinnamomum camphora)
is also a genus of plants in the Family Fabaceae.
cassia tree has a greyish bark, often abundantly covered by lichens, and hard
elongated leaves that have a decidedly reddish cast when young. The bark of whole
trees is harvested for cassia, and the flavour is less delicate than that of the
bark of the small shoots used for cinnamon. Sometimes cassia is called bastard
cinnamon, as it is not as expensive as true cinnamon.
to the 1960s Vietnam was the world's most important
producer of cassia. Because of the Vietnam war, production in highland Sumatra,
increased, and this remains one of the main cassia exporters today.
is used against vermin and as a flavouring agent, both for sweetmeats and for
classical times, four types of cinnamon were distinguished (and often confused):
- Cassia (Hebrew, qesia),
the bark of Cinnamomum iners from Arabia and Ethiopia
proper (Hebrew qinnamon), the bark of Cinnamomum zeylanicum
from Sri Lanka
or Malobathrum (from Sanskrit tamalapattra), Cinnamomum malabathrum from
the North of India
Cinnamomum cassia from Seres, that is, China.
Exodus 30, 23,
Moses is ordered
to use both sweet cinnamon (Kinnamon) and cassia
(qesia) together with myrrh, sweet calamus and olive oil to produce a holy
oil to anoint the ark. Psalm 45, 7-8, mentions the garments of the righteous that
smell of myrrh, aloe and cassia.
first Greek reference to kasia is found in a poem by Sappho in the 7th century B.C.
to Herodot, both cinnamon and cassia
grow in Arabia, together with incense, myrrh and ladanum,
and are guarded by winged serpents. The phoenix builds its nest from cinnamon
and cassia. But Herodot mentions other writers that see the home of Dionysos, e.g.
India, as the source of cassia. While Theophrastus gives a rather
good account of the plants, but a curious method for harvesting (worms eat away
the wood and leave the bark behind), Dioscorides seems
to confuse the plant with some kind of water-lily.
(nat. 12, 86-87) gives a fascinating account of the early spice trade across the
Red Sea in "rafts without sails or oars", obviously using the trade-winds, that
costs Rome 100 Millions sesterces each year. According to Pliny, a pound (the
Roman pound, 327g) of cassia, cinnamon or serichatum cost up to 300 denars, the
wage of ten month's labour. Diocletian's Edict on Maximum Prices
from 301 AD gives a price of 125 denars for a pound of cassia, while an agricultural
labourer earned 25 denars per day.
Greeks used kásia or malabathron to flavor wine, together with absinth (arthemisia
absinthia). Pliny mentions cassia as a flavouring agent for wine as well (Plin.
nat. 14, 107f.). Malabathrum leaves (folia) were used in cooking and for distilling
an oil used in a caraway-sauce for oysters by the roman gourmet Gaius Gavius Apicius (de re coquinaria I, 29,
30; IX, 7). Malabathrum is among the spices that, according to Apicius, any good
kitchen should contain.
recipes for kyphi, an aromatic used for burning, include cinnamon and cassia from
Hellenistic times onwards. The gifts of Hellenistic rulers to temples sometimes
included cassia and cinnamon as well as incense, myrrh and Indian incense (kostos),
so we can conclude that the Greeks used it in this way too.
famous Commagenum, an unguent produced in Commagene in present-day eastern
Turkey was made
from goose-fat and aromatised with cinnamon oil and spikenard (Nardostrachys
jatamansi). Malobrathum from Egypt (Dioscorides I, 63) was based on cattle-fat
and contained cinnamon as well; one pound cost 300 denars. The Roman poet Martial
(VI, 55) makes fun of Romans who drip unguents, smell of cassia and cinnamon taken
from a bird's nest and look down on him who does not smell at all.
as a warm and dry substance was believed by the ancient doctors to cure, among
others, snakebites, freckles, the common cold and kidney troubles.
- Andrew Dalby, Siren Feasts,
a history of food and gastronomy in Greece (London Routledge 1996).
Faure, Parfums et aromates de l'antiquité (Paris, Fayard 1987).
Paterson, A fountain of Gardens. Plants and Herbs from the Bible (Edinburgh 1990).
- Emmerich Paszthoty,
Salben, Schminken und Parfüme im Altertum (Mainz, Zabern 1992).