How Cinnamon Plant Came to Be

by Fabrice Matthew

Camphor oil is obtained by distilling the wood or leaves of Cinnamomum camphora (L.) Presl, which is a native of China, Japan and Taiwan, the last island producing the greatest amount. C. camphora can be distinguished from the other species of Cinnamomum mentioned above by the leaves being pinninerved, whereas the others have three to five distinct nerves from the base of the leaves proceeding towards the tip; camphor also has stout dormant buds. A large proportion of the world’s camphor is now synthetically from pinenc, a turpentine derivative, or from coal tar. Camphor is used in the manufacture of celluloid, in disinfectants and chemical preparations, and has a wide range of medicinal uses. Safrole, produced from the residual oil after camphor extraction, is used in soap and perfume manufacture.

By 1780 cinnamon, pepper, cloves and nutmegs had been successfully established in the Seychelles. Fock-Heng (1965) states in that year ‘a vessel flying the English flag was sighted entering Victoria Harbour, and the French occupants fearing that the islands might fall into the hands of their enemies, deliberately ordered the burning of the spice plantations.

Some have cinnamaldehyde, the chief of these being the true cinnamon; some have eugenol and smell like cloves; some have safrole and smell like sassafras; and some contain camphor. Besides these four chemical components, contain many other aromatic components, which are of importance as they give, or mar, the delicacy of the scents.

The cinnamon in the Seychelles was later found to be Cinnamomum verwn and was spread by birds (see ‘Propagation’ below). It occurs on the islands of Mahe, which is by far the largest producer, Silhouette, Praslin and La Digue. The area is estimated at 20 000 acres (8 100 ha) and cinnamon is the second in importance of the Seychelles industries after copra, the principal products being cinnamon bark and cinnamon leaf oil.

Other species yielding spices are: C. cassia Presl, Chinese cassia; C. burmannii (C. G. and Th. Nees) Bl., Indonesian or Padang cassia; and C. loureirii Nees, Saigon cassia or cinnamon. These three spices will be dealt with later in the chapter. In addition there is C. tamala (Buch.-Ham.) Th. Nees & Eberm. which gives Indian cassia, and according to Sastri (1950) is the source of tej pat leaves, which are used extensively as a spice in northern India. C. oliverii F. M. Bailey in Australia yields Oliver’s bark.

By 1915 this had dropped to 190 tonnes; the average for 1915-22 was 125 tonnes, and only 50 tonnes per annum for the next 20 years. Since 1942, due to the short supply of cassia bark from China, Indonesia and Vietnam, there has been a recovery in the Seychelles’ cinnamon bark industry which had reached 1063 tonnes in 1958, and cinnamon leaf oil became the most important product. The latter has since declined and there have been substantial exports of rough bark, which reached a record of 3 059 tonnes in 1968, valued at Rs 7485731, and this was the first time this century that another agricultural product had more revenue than the coconut crop. Cinnamon has been introduced into most tropical countries, but production is limited to Sri Lanka, Seychelles and the Malagasy Republic.

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