Article Copied from the American Rhododendron Society Blog

Print date: 6/12/2024

Cinnamon and Nutmeg

24 January 2021 @ 11:29 | Posted by Norma

The use of cinnamon has been well documented since ancient Egyptian times, but it is actually native to southern China and the Island of Ceylon. Its value, even in ancient times, was such that it has been an important trading commodity from time immemorial. It continues to be one of the most important spices of the world.

Cinnamon is actually the dried inner bark harvested from two trees: Cinnamonum zeylanicum, native to Ceylon and southern India, or C. cassia, from southeast Asia. In the wild, the trees are about 40 to 50 feet tall, but for commercial purposes, trees are grown in plantations where they are severely pruned to be kept just over 6 feet tall. To harvest, twigs are cut from the trees, and the bark is carefully peeled off the twigs to form "quills". The quills are dried by wrapping them around another piece of wood, and during the drying process, the cinnamon ferments slightly. After drying, the quills are unwound and cut to short lengths for sale, or ground into cinnamon powder.

Cinnamon oil can be distilled from the bark, and this is used as a commercial flavoring agent and in the perfume industry. Usually, no reference is made as to which form of cinnamon is sold in a given package, but in North America, the "cassia" form of cinnamon is more commonly available, while Europeans and Mexicans prefer the Ceylonese form of cinnamon. Both forms provide a spice with a rich, aromatic scent and flavor, but the cassia form is thought to have a more robust flavor and the Ceylonese form is more delicate.

Cinnamon is commonly used in baking, in some processed candies and also is often added to pickles. Cassia buds, dried fruit capsules of C. cassia, are also harvested and dried for use in making pickles. The buds have a more pungent flavor of cinnamon.

Nutmeg is the seed of the nutmeg tree, Myristica fragrans. A related spice, mace, is also harvested from the nutmeg seed, but it is the leathery coating that is found wrapped around the actual "nut".

Nutmeg is a medium-sized tree, native to Indonesia. It is now grown throughout southeast Asia and in the West Indies. Nutmeg trees are dioecious, that is, male and female flowers are borne on separate trees. In planting a nutmeg orchard, the grower must ensure there are enough male trees to pollinate the female flowers so about one in every 10 to12 trees will be a male pollinator. Only the female trees bear nuts.

As they ripen, the nut's outer husk splits open, revealing a kernel, wrapped in the mace. After the nuts are gathered the outer husk is removed and the leathery mace is carefully removed by hand. The mace is pressed and dried. The remaining kernel consists of a hard outer shell with the seed inside. These nuts are slowly dried and when curing is complete the hard shell is removed. The kernel within the "nutmeg" is the actual spice and it can be packaged whole or ground. Both nutmeg and mace are used for flavoring sweet dishes, but they are also commonly used to spice meats, fish, preserves, and other food.