By Harold McGee
Cinnamon is the dried inner bark of trees in the tropical Asian genus Cinnamomum, a distant relative of the bay laurel. Its inner bark or phloem layer, which carries nutrients from the leaves toward the roots, contains protective oil cells. When the inner bark is cut and peeled from the new growth of these trees, it curls to form the familiar long “quills” or sticks. Cinnamon was one of the first spices to reach the Mediterranean; the ancient Egyptians used it in embalming, and it’s mentioned repeatedly in the Old Testament. Asian and Near Eastern peoples have long used cinnamon to flavor meat dishes, and thanks to the influence of the Arabs, medieval European cooks did too. Nowadays most cinnamon goes into sweet dishes and candies.