It’s no secret that we here at 88 Acres love cinnamon. We sprinkle it in our Triple Berry, Ginger Apple, Spiced Cranberry Orange, and Cinnamon & Oats Seed Bars and Seed’nola. It’s swirled into our Vanilla Spiced Sunflower Seed Butter, and it’s even mixed into our Smoky Chipotle Dressing. Maybe we love cinnamon so much because it seems to be in all our favorite baked goods from childhood. And when we make our bars, butters, and ‘nola we want it to taste like home, so cinnamon helps us do that. The level of care we use to make our snacks is the same we use to source the best, most sustainable, and ethically-produced cinnamon we can find. Because––spoiler alert––not all cinnamon is the same.
LIES, TRUTHS, AND THE ORIGINS OF CINNAMON
Cinnamon was first used by Egyptians as early as 2000 BCE as a meat preservative and flavoring agent in food and drinks. Arab traders essentially owned all the cinnamon in the world at the time, making it a scarce and luxury good to those who desired it. To maintain their control of the cinnamon trade, the Arab traders made up all sorts of lies about the spice’s origin. One tall tale spoke of large birds carrying cinnamon sticks to their nests atop high trees.
Fun fact: “Cinnamon” is derived from the Arabic term amomon, meaning fragrant spice plant. Italians called cinnamon "canella" from their word for cannon, meaning "little tube.”
The truth is a little less exciting if not just as interesting. In the 1500s, Portuguese colonizers conquered the island of present-day Sri Lanka, then known as Ceylon, where they found the island to be heavily planted with cinnamon trees. Knowing of its mystique and high prices on the international market, the colonizers took advantage of this discovery, and those native to the island who knew how to grow it, by forcing them to produce cinnamon to be traded around the world.
Cinnamon was one of the reasons this island was so attractive to other colonizers. The island underwent a series of European colonizers including the Dutch and British, all of whom took their turn at the cinnamon trade. Present-day Sri Lanka wouldn’t gain independence from their British colonizers until 1948, but by then, another type of cinnamon had been discovered and it was grown and traded by many colonizing nations in present-day Indonesia, Eastern Africa, and South America.
BARKING UP THE RIGHT CINNAMON TREE
Today, cinnamon is only grown in significant quantities in 10 countries, with Sri Lanka being the fourth largest producer. While Ceylon cinnamon was the first kind to be grown and traded, Cassia cinnamon has since become much more popular. We use organic Cassia cinnamon from Indonesia, the world’s largest cinnamon producer, from the western region of Sumatra, known as Kerinci.
Small-holder family farmers maintain thousands of cinnamon trees throughout Kerinci. Cinnamon trees have incredibly long growth cycles, typically taking 15 to 20 years after being planted before any cinnamon can be harvested. Cinnamon trees used to be handed down through the family to pay for weddings or trips to Mecca, but because of their long growth cycle, cinnamon trees can often be left unattended or logged.
The cinnamon market is also susceptible to boom and bust cycles, with prices rising and falling erratically due to increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters, like earthquakes, volcano eruptions, tsunamis, and heavy tropical rains. This risky crop that takes almost two decades to bear its coveted spice requires long term partnerships and commitments from buyers in order for the farmers to see the value in maintaining their trees and continuously replanting seedlings.
For the farmers who grow our cinnamon in Kerinci, the cinnamon harvest is hard work. Prior to harvesting, the farmers remove the bottom foot of the tree trunk’s outer bark to mark them for harvest, which happens twice a year after periods of heavy rainfall. The cinnamon is ready to be harvested once the tree’s leaves have turned from red to green and the trunk is no longer sticky.
When it’s time to harvest, the farmers set up a base camp in the forest where they chop down the trees, strip off the outer bark and harvest the inner bark, which is the cinnamon. There are about 77 pounds of cinnamon bark per tree, amounting to 24,000 to 32,000 pounds of cinnamon per acre. Harvesting one acre of cinnamon takes the farmers close to 2 weeks. The cinnamon bark is cleaned in the forest and curls into its signature quill shape as it dries.
Fun Fact: The Cassia cinnamon tree is native to southern China and southeast Asia, but is now primarily grown in Indonesia.
From the cinnamon forests of Kerinci, the farmers send their dried cinnamon to our supplier’s processing facilities in Bali and Jakarta, Indonesia where everything is tested for allergens and pathogens, checked for quality, ground, packed, and shipped to warehouses in California and New Jersey. In 2020, we used over 4,000 pounds of organic ground cinnamon to make 10 different products in our bakery in Boston.
EAT BARK FOR BREAKFAST
We love adding cinnamon to our products because it brings all the flavors together and adds that spicy, earthy, nostalgic flavor of the baked goods and cinnamon oatmeal we all grew up eating. But cinnamon also has nutritional benefits that makes using it even sweeter. Several studies have found that Cassia cinnamon might lower blood sugar levels and has anti-inflammatory, antifungal, and antibacterial properties. Cinnamon also contains a fair amount of vitamin A, calcium, and magnesium.
Despite these nutritional benefits, there is often misleading information about cinnamon that claims that Cassia cinnamon is toxic, especially when compared to Ceylon cinnamon. This misinformation originates from the fact that Cassia cinnamon contains more of a compound called coumarin than Ceylon cinnamon does. Some studies show that consuming high levels of coumarin in one sitting may have adverse health effects like liver damage and cancer.
However, it is incredibly important to note that the levels that cause toxicity are not likely to be met unless you consume cinnamon supplements or more than a teaspoon of cinnamon each day, neither of which is recommended. For example, our Cinnamon & Oats Seed Bar contains the most amount of cinnamon of all of our products, but still has only 0.5 grams per bar, which is the equivalent of 0.1 teaspoons. Therefore, you would need to eat close to 10 Cinnamon & Oats bars every day to reach toxic levels. We love cinnamon and all, but even we don’t recommend that.
SUSTAINABLE CINNAMON FOR LIFE
The cinnamon we use is certified organic. This means that the farmers don’t use any chemical pesticides or fertilizers on the cinnamon trees, or even on the undergrowth and other vegetation near the cinnamon trees. There are rice farmers nearby who use pesticides, but part of the organic certification for cinnamon also requires that the cinnamon trees don’t come near the borders of those rice paddies.
Because cinnamon trees must be chopped down for the cinnamon to be harvested, farmers need to continually replant seedlings to ensure they always have cinnamon to harvest. Our supplier works with the farmers to replant more than 100% of all cinnamon trees cut down every year. They replant more than they cut to account for any natural disasters or low yields that might occur. This sustainable replanting program is one of several components that have allowed our cinnamon to become Rainforest Alliance Certified.
As an extension of the For Life Certification, our supplier also pays our cinnamon farmers a Fair Trade price premium, which goes toward funding community projects. Our supplier’s relationship with the farmers is far more than just transactional. Their sustainability team, which is the largest department in the organization, works with farming communities throughout Indonesia to provide agricultural training, irrigation infrastructure, eyeglasses for those doing precise tasks, and so much more to support each community beyond the price of cinnamon.