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MIKE KEELER: A Very Spicy Tale

We’re almost to the dead of winter. It’s time for a spicy tale.

It starts one day long ago, on an island off the coast of India. Somebody noticed that when they cut down a certain type of tree, it refused to die. It grew little shoots out of the stump and kept right on growing. Folks soon realized that, before these little shoots became too mature, if they cut one from the stump, peeled off its hard outer bark, softened the inner bark in seawater, pounded it thin, and let it dry, it would curl up lengthwise into a long, flaky stick which smelled great and tasted even better.

They called it ‘kurundu’; they sold it to their neighbors on the mainland, who renamed it ‘karuvapatta’; they in turn traded it to the Persians, who called it ‘dar-chin’; Arab boats carried it up the Red Sea to Egypt, where it was known by its Greek name, ‘kinnamomom’; by the time it got to the Romans, folks were calling it ‘cinnamon.’

It was one of the wonders of the ancient world. The Greeks brought offerings of cinnamon to the Temple of Apollo. It is referenced often in the Old Testament as a kingly gift. When the wife of the Roman emperor Nero died, he – being Nero – burned a year’s supply of it at her funeral.

By the Middle Ages, it could be found as far west as Europe, but it was still pretty hard to come by. So when folks started sailing out to explore the world, one of the things they were looking for was the source of spices like cinnamon. The Portuguese were the first to do it, by circling around the southern tip of Africa, into the Indian Ocean, and arriving at Ceylon, the only place where cinnamon was being harvested. Their reward was to gain a monopoly on the trade. But they could only hold it until 1638, when they were displaced by the Dutch, who became masters of cinnamon for the next century and a half.

The British had to get into the game, and eventually they did, by degrading the product. They found a lower-quality version of cinnamon, called cassia, which has a harsher, less pleasant taste, but which is hardier and can grow in more places than the original. They planted cassia all over the place, in India, China and Indonesia. Before long, it was the new global standard.

That’s why today, when you order a Venti Dolce Latte at Starbucks, you’re not actually getting cinnamon, you’re buying cassia. It’s not only less tasty than ‘true cinnamon,’ cassia lacks many of cinnamon’s anti-oxidant and anti-viral properties. Even worse, cassia has recently been shown to cause liver damage when consumed in high quantities.

OK, so it’s Friday, you are probably working from home, you’re reading this and thinking, “So how do I get some without traveling all the way to Ceylon?” Well, you’re in luck. Because – just like all your meetings – the spice supply chains that used to circle all the way around the globe have gone digital too. You can order real cinnamon online, and have it on your porch via Amazon Prime.

Tomorrow. You can have true cinnamon tomorrow. You have to wait one day. ONE DAY!

Geez. Be patient.

Mike Keeler

– MIke Keeler

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