There are many varieties of cinnamon (see our post on varieties of cinnamon). All are the bark of various evergreen trees in the laurel family. Cinnamon has a very warm sweet and spicy flavor that works equally well in desserts and savory dishes. It is arguably the 'sweetheart' of the spice rack.
Cinnamon is indigenous to Sri Lanka. Its use dates back to 2000 B.C.E. It has been used in preserving meats and in rituals throughout the ancient world. The origin of the cinnamon was a well guarded secret among Arab traders. In the 1500's the Portuguese discovered cinnamon trees in Sri Lanka and took control of the cinnamon trade for over 100 years. For the next 150 years, the Dutch controlled the cinnamon trade. By the late 18th century, cinnamon had become more widely available and less valuable.
Cinnamon seedlings are grown in thick clumps. In the rainy season shoots are cut off at the base and peeled. The bark is then rolled and dried in the shade.
Cinnamon is best known for its use in sweet desserts and breads, but also features well in savory dishes, such as pilafs, chutneys and lamb stews. It pairs particularly well with apples, almonds, chocolate and poultry.