Cinnamon sticks and cinnamon powder from Sri Lanka, the Pride Among Wonderful Spices!
Cinnamon in Sri Lanka, the Pride Among Wonderful Spices!

As you might already know, the tiny island of Sri Lanka is more like a land of spices. Thus, there is no harm in introducing spices as one of the treasures on this magical island. However, among an extensive range of spices from Sri Lanka, Cinnamon ranks top. That is simply due to the high demand that it has from the international market. Besides, the demand for Ceylon Cinnamon is not something that emerged in the recent past. In fact, there is a rich history twisted around the Cinnamon cultivations in Sri Lanka, that reveals to the world their value is immense.

Owing to all these amazing reasons, Cinnamon in Sri Lanka happens to be a major interest of many around the world. Hence, we thought of focusing this read on Sri Lankan Cinnamon, which is certainly the pride among Sri Lankan spices. Continue reading, and you will get to know many more interesting facts with regard!

Cinnamon in Sri Lanka

Cinnamon comes from the dried bark of Cinnamomum zeylanicum of the Lauraceae family. However, Cinnamon from Sri Lanka is famous as Ceylon Cinnamon or True Cinnamon. Of course, yes, it has got that name due to the originality that one can find in the variety. This plant is an evergreen spirally arranged perennial plant with broad dark green leaves. Under natural conditions, this tree grows up to 12-15 meters. Yet, the proper maintenance can make it a bush of 2-2.5 meters with multiple branches.

Historical Context of Cinnamon in Sri Lanka

The motherland of cinnamon is none other than the Pearl of the Indian Ocean, Sri Lanka. The history of the cinnamon plantations on the island runs back thousands of years, making it a wonderful aspect of the rich agricultural heritage of this country. However, the first indications of Cinnamon run back to about 2800B.C as references in several historical writings. Firstly, it was there as a reference in Chinese writing as ‘kwai’. Then,  it was there in the bible as one of the ingredients used by Moses for his anointing oil in ancient Rome. 

Apart from that, records reveal that Ceylon Cinnamon has been the most precious spice in the 14th-15th century throughout the West. It is where the quest for Cinnamon marks its first step since Ceylon was the only country to produce real cinnamon by then. Hence, cinnamon contributed to bringing the colonizers to the island. Yes, they were eagerly looking forward to using and trading original cinnamon. The reason behind this interest was the immense profit they could gain being the main nodule in the supply chain of this absolute fortune. However, cinnamon along with the other spices could make Sri Lanka a colony of three foreign nations.

First, it was the Portuguese who chased after cinnamon and stepped into Ceylon. Of course, they took over the trade. Then, with the intrusion of the Dutch the cinnamon monopoly passes onto their hands. Dutch pioneered boosting the production of cinnamon by domesticating the crop, expanding to the areas under their control. They moved Cinnamon plantations to western and eastern coastal belts as well. However, 1815 marked the end of the Dutch authority and the island along with the product control moved to the clutches of the British. 

Historical Evidence;

The main historical evidence one can find on the cinnamon trade in Sri Lanka is the  “Hanguranketha Agreement” signed on the 14th of February 1766. This is also known as the up-country agreement since it was signed between King Keerthi Sri Rajasinghe and the Dutch government. There, the king permitted the Dutch to cut and peel cinnamon in some areas on the island. In return, they had to protect the Kingdom of Kandy from foreign invasions. Despite the agreement, however, they gained their half whereas Sri Lanka passed onto the hands of the British, unfortunately.

The Current Context of Cinnamon Plantation in Sri Lanka

Cinnamon in Sri Lanka has not only historical importance, but it also has an equal significance in the present context as well. In fact, the usage of cinnamon is considerably unique when it comes to the Sri Lankan context because of extracting the best out of every part of the tree.

The bark of cinnamon contributes to manufacturing quills which are very unique to Sri Lanka. Also, pieces of bark are there as chips, quillings, and featherings as well. Since one can find essential oil in leaves, bark, and roots, Sri Lankan producers extract oil mainly from bark and leaves. Moreover, in Sri Lanka, the pure ground form of cinnamon is available in curry mixtures as one of the ingredients and in pelleted form as well.

There are around eight varieties of cinnamon, but Cinnamomum zeylanicum is the best variety that is used in commercial production. The usage of cinnamon has a deep connection mainly with the kitchen, specifically cooking. Simply, cinnamon is the main reason behind the authentic flavors and the aroma of Sri Lankan food. Accordingly, it has not only become an essential ingredient for cooking, but also for baking many kinds of food items like salads, beverages, soups, and sauces.

Besides, cinnamon drinks and cinnamon tea have also become popular around the whole world in the present. Also, cinnamon has become an ayurvedic ingredient mostly in Asian countries. Further, the oil is mainly used for food productions along with perfume productions and pharmaceutical productions.

Owing to these reasons, the demand for Sri Lankan Cinnamon is indeed high. Thus, cinnamon cultivation has become the occupation of some people in several areas all around the island.

The Climatic and Soil Conditions Needed for the Growth of Cinnamon

Cinnamon is a hardy plant that grows well in all types of soils under a variety of tropical conditions. Hence, the main reason that the cinnamon in Ceylon comes out originally is that the island has a variety of soils from silver sand to loam with a variety of climatic conditions. Thus, cinnamon grows in the areas where semi-dry zone to wet zone conditions are available on the island.

Further one can find crops in silver sands in Negombo and in southern coastal belts where there is grave soil. Since the bark quality depends on the quality of soil and climate, the best barks are in Negombo among the white sandy soil. It usually needs deep soil but the roots can penetrate through the cracks of the parent material to deeper layers as well. However, cinnamon does not grow in drier parts in the low country.

Where Does Cinnamon Grow in Sri Lanka?

The origin of cinnamon goes to the hill country areas on the island. If we go back to the times of the Portuguese, we can find widespread cinnamon cultivations among the central hills. Principally, in the areas such as Kandy, Matale, BelihulOya, Haputhale, Horton Plains, and the Sinharaja forest range.

Back then, there were seven varieties of cinnamon in those areas. With the dawn of the Dutch invasion, cinnamon traveled from the islands to coastal belts and made their growth stable mainly on Southern coasts. Hence, in the present scenario, it has been popular along with the coastal belts and also with the inland areas of Kalutara, Ambalangoda, Ratnapura, and Matara. The most suitable temperature for cinnamon plantations drops in between 250C and 300C while the rainfall should be in the region of 1,875 – 3,750 mm. 

The Position of Ceylon Cinnamon in the World Market

Due to many reasons, this little yet powerful island has become the best and the largest producer as well as the exporter of cinnamon all around the world. Mainly, cinnamon is the most important and valuable spice among Sri Lankan spices. Hence, the pure Ceylon cinnamon suppliers govern 90% of the world’s market share with their goods. It is not only the rarity, quality, and originality but the demand for the natural spices despite artificially flavored spices also has contributed to making this valuable opportunity. The most important thing is, other than ‘true cinnamon’ or ‘sweet cinnamon in Sri Lanka, there is only one variety of cinnamon called ‘cassia’ that can be found in the world. ‘Cassia’ is a variety that comes from China which is inferior and cheap when compared with Ceylon cinnamon. Thus, the shortage of varieties also makes Ceylon cinnamon more essential to the world.

Reasons why Ceylon Cinnamon has a High Demand;

  • Mostly, cinnamon has a higher demand in the Asian continent. They use cinnamon for bakery products as an ingredient, Asian food, and tea owing to the unique aroma and flavor it gives.
  • Most of the countries use cinnamon for pharmaceutical manufacturing since it is good for health.
  • Some countries use cinnamon in making perfumes, cosmetics, and scented exotic gifts.
  • Some European countries use cinnamon in producing sweets like chocolates, desserts, spicy candies, hot cocoa, liqueurs, etc.
  • Cinnamon oil, powder, and tablets are produced and exported for a vast number of countries

Export Market of Ceylon Cinnamon

As mentioned earlier cinnamon has played a major part in making us a colony of all three nations; Portuguese, Dutch, and British. It is not only cinnamon but other spices from Sri Lanka as well. Even now Cinnamon grown and produced in Sri Lanka has a higher reputation in the International market due to that relationship. However, in the present context, there are a vast number of exporters and they try their best to keep the demand for Sri Lankan Cinnamon.

The main importers of Ceylon Cinnamon are Mexico(40.9%), the USA(25.2%), and Peru(10%). Other than that, countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Spain, Guatemala, Bolivia, and Chile consume Ceylon Cinnamon considerably. However, by now, ‘Pure Ceylon Cinnamon’ has become a global brand in the international market since it has all the characteristics of a brand. Also, it covers 60% of export revenue in Sri Lanka. After all, we can mention that the Cinnamon export industry of Sri Lanka remains strong, and it contributes immensely to the economy of Sri Lanka.

How Much Does Cinnamon Cost in Sri Lanka?

The approximate price range for Sri Lanka Cinnamon, according to the reports of 2021, may be between USD 10.24 and USD 11.57 per kilogram. Thus, it may cost around USD 4.64 and USD 5.25 per pound(lb). It means the price is LKR 2008.17 per kg in Sri Lanka currency. The average price of a tonne goes as USD 10241.67 in areas like Jaffna and Colombo

Why is Ceylon Cinnamon One of the Most Expensive Spices in the World?

Apart from the above price ranges, perhaps, one pound may reach up to the point of USD 27 as well. It is because, as mentioned above, it comes from the dried bark of a tree native to Sri Lanka. Hence, it is difficult and costly to produce. It means a well-experienced cinnamon peeler could only make a few pounds of quills a day. The process takes longer than it seems from the point of planting growth to the harvesting process to the peeling process to making it sellable.

Also, since cinnamon plants are not as durable as in all climatic conditions and soil conditions, the growth and the harvest are possible in wet seasons only. Thus, mostly because of the hardness in the process, the price goes higher and higher along with the time. Being the true or the pure cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon has a considerable demand as well. Thus, there is no wonder in Ceylon Cinnamon being one of the most expensive!

Challenges for the Cinnamon Cultivation in Sri Lanka

Nowadays, cinnamon cultivation faces many difficulties and challenges naturally as well as artificially due to several factors starting from growing to exporting. Natural challenges come with climatic changes, changing rainfall, and weather conditions. But the artificial challenges are as follows;

1. Scarcity of Cinnamon Peelers in Southern Province;

Considering the hardness and the duration of the process, most of the peelers drop out of the cinnamon cultivation. It needs good patience and a considerably high amount of caring when cultivating cinnamon and people have to stay nearly six months to get the harvest. Since most of the peelers have it as the only earning method, they tend to leave the occupation.

Also, this affects the quality of quills as well. The harvest should be done at least once in six months to guarantee a higher quality of the product. But, Southern cultivators harvest cinnamon only once in eight months or one year due to the lack of peelers.

2. Producing Fewer Quality Products;

Since the scarcity of peelers drags the duration of harvest unusually, the quality diminishes. Also, the possibility of occurrence of pests and diseases takes place since they are getting over aging. It makes the possibility of producing higher cinnamon grades low. 

At the same time since the reproduction of branches is less, the productivity of lands diminishes. This leads to the farmers obtaining low income.

3. Poor management practices;

Holding on to a myth that says cinnamon does not need many fertilizers, farmers do not fertilize their cultivation of cinnamon properly. But the truth is having a regular and well-organized fertilizing chain is important for the quality as well as to increase production. Thus, lack of awareness of cinnamon nutrition is a major negative factor in cinnamon cultivation.

4. Poor Hygienic Conditions;

Apart from poor management, cultivators and peelers tend to follow poor hygienic methods as well. For instance, they immerse immature bark fragments into cinnamon sticks. It makes the whole lot blackish and thus the lot gets discarded at the export level. Hence, it eventually damages the reputation of the country.

It is true that the Ministry of Agriculture overlooks the cinnamon plantations in the country. Still, the government should be responsible for these conditions. Mainly due to the lack of appropriate standards, regulations, and inspection procedures poor hygiene conditions occur. They have the responsibility to make the farmers and peelers aware of the hygiene certification. Once again shortage of knowledge leads to this condition.

All in all, all these conditions become a challenge to the overall Cinnamon cultivation on the island while affecting the long-standing international market as well.

Future of Cinnamon Cultivation in Sri Lanka

At present, cinnamon is the third-largest agricultural export from Sri Lanka. On the island, there are around 31,000 hectares under cinnamon cultivation while employing nearly 400,000 people directly and indirectly. The average export earning reaches, as per the records, USD 132 million-plus USD 7 million for value-added products. Hence, cinnamon holds a significant position in both revenue and employment sectors in Sri Lanka. Thus, it is important to act upon the loopholes like lack of trained staff, lower quality of Ceylon cinnamon, poor management and hygiene conditions for a better future in the cultivation. However, according to the reports of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, the Sri Lankan government has taken steps to stabilize this fortune in the future. Thus, we can certainly look forward to a better future for the Sri Lankan cinnamon industry.

The Bottom Line

All these facts prove to us again and again that Cinnamon in Sri Lanka is still a living industry that benefits this country at large. Of course, there are certain challenges that this industry faces. Still, the people who make their living out of Cinnamon in Sri Lanka, hold a special bond with this industry. Thus, they do their best to keep this industry going forward. Besides, true Cinnamon from Sri Lanka with superior authentic qualities is indeed a treasure that this island owns. Hence, it is certainly an industry that needs to be preserved for future generations as well. However, the Ceylon Cinnamon Industry has a long way ahead, and nothing could stop it. So, why not? Let’s hope for the best!