Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tea Mission Meets True Cinnamon

Michelle Gross - Ross School of Business & School for Environment and Sustainability

Back in April I participated in a spice workshop held at Zingerman’s by the Spice Trekkers, a family from Montreal who travels the world buying high quality deliciously poignant spices directly from producers. Sometimes they share their abundance of knowledge (and secrets) to curious workshop goers like myself. Little did I know they would put me in touch with their ‘Cinnamon friends’ in Sri Lanka, who would introduce me to the world of true cinnamon.

I spent a day touring the cinnamon plantation and factory near Bentota, Sri Lanka, observing the plantation, with its diverse plant and animal species, seeing how the cinnamon plants are taken care of, and how a cinnamon stick is produced: cut and separated from its wood, dried and processed. My new friends Sanath and Deepa showed me what True Cinnamon is (delicate, soft) and what it is not (Cassia bark).


In most countries, an evergreen plant called Cinnamomum cassia, or Chinese cassia is cultivated. It produces a bark that looks similar to Cinnamon, and it is  often sold as Cinnamon or blended with Cinnamomum verum, or True Cinnamon, native to Sri Lanka. Cassia can be easily distinguished from Ceylon cinnamon as it has much tougher, harder bark that cannot be easily ground with a coffee grinder, and the taste simply does not compare. As I stepped into the factory, I was blown away by the intensely sweet smell, and later when the cinnamon powder touched my tongue, I experienced the exquisite, delightful flavor. The taste of Cassia does not even come close to Ceylon Cinnamon, whose aroma is sharp; sweet and spicy at the same time.


Sanath showed me his new equipment, including the stools that he bought for his employees, as well as the recently constructed addition to the factory. I learned that many of the challenges he faces as a producer and exporter of cinnamon are similar to those of producers of tea, cashews, and other products in Sri Lanka. It seems that across the board, Sri Lankans are choosing to work in construction jobs rather than in the agricultural sector. Hopefully comfortable work settings can help these agricultural businesses retain employees. I took a go at scraping off the bark of one trunk, and was very satisfied with the comfortable seating and set up.

Thank you Sanath, Deepa, Ethné, Marika and their families for their generosity and for opening my eyes (and mouth) to True Cinnamon! 

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