The Spice Council of Sri Lanka
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Ceylon, the Good Fortune Island of Spice
From time immemorial Sri Lanka, then known as ‘Ceylon’ or ‘Taprobane’ the tropical island nation located at the tip of the Indian sub-continent and also known as the “Pearl of the Indian Ocean” was famous for its quality spices.
Famous travelers such as Marco Polo (1254 – 1324) brought information on spices from the East to Europe and described the routes of spices as The Silk Route East, The Sea Route, and The Cinnamon Route; and they exposed the true state of Arabian trade.
The era of exploration started in the 15th century when the European voyagers scanned the globe, especially the East, in search of wealth which then was mainly spices.
In 1505 a Portuguese Admiral, Lorenzo De Almeida was caught in a strong monsoon wind and accidentally landed on the South Coast of Ceylon, whence the source of true cinnamon was discovered.
Thereafter other maritime nations, namely the Dutch (1602 – 1796) and the British (1798 – 1948) vied for world trade superiority and took control of Ceylon, primarily to gain a monopoly of cinnamon supply to the west.
The Dutch Governor Falck in 1767 was responsible for initiating the first systematic commercial cultivation of Cinnamon in Ceylon, to enhance their trade in the commodity which fetched very high prices in that era.
Sri Lanka produces some of the finest spices in the world, such as cinnamon, cloves, pepper, nutmeg, mace, and cardamom.
Ceylon Spices have unique intrinsic characteristics in terms of aroma and flavour. These unique inherent qualities are present due to several natural factors. Sri Lanka has distinctive micro-climatic zones where spices are grown and produced, which give them somewhat different chemical compositions when compared with spices from other sources. For example, Ceylon pepper has a higher than average content of the pungent principle piperine, while Ceylon cloves have a wider range of aroma giving agents.
Ceylon cinnamon stands out from the rest of the spices produced in Sri Lanka with its distinctive taste and aroma. True cinnamon is genuine cultivated in Sri Lanka and offered to the market in the form known as quills which have the characteristic organoleptic properties, as well as a smooth, tender, pale brown appearance, a highly fragrant odor, and a sweet, warm, and pleasing aromatic taste.
The preparation of the cinnamon quill needs special expertise which has been handed down from generation to generation, and it is an art unique to Sri Lanka.
Ceylon cinnamon contains an array of natural chemical constituents called “Terpinoids (which are absent in cassia) the presence of which give its typical flavour profile and greater odorous characteristics in particular. By sensory means, as well as by scientific testing, it is easy to identify Ceylon cinnamon as a distinct commodity.
“The shores of the island are full of cinnamon and it is the best in all the Orient. When one is downwind from the island one can still smell the cinnamon eight leagues out to sea” – reported by a Dutch captain (Braudel 1984, page 215)