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cinnamon, n. (also spelt cynamon, sinamon, cinamon)


The inner bark of an East Indian tree (see 2), dried in the sun, in rolls or ‘quills’, and used as a spice.


 It is of a characteristic yellowish brown colour, brittle, fragrant, and aromatic.





The smell of cinnamon is a uniquely evocative one. For centuries the spice has been a part of British culture, imported from the East and used for a wide variety of purposes. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the importation of cinnamon was controlled strictly by the Dutch East India Company and by the eighteenth century, the spice’s popularity rapidly increased and it became a vital part of everyday life with uses as disparate as flavouring puddings, curing old age and embalming bodies.


The best cinnamon in the eighteenth century was that produced in Ceylon, also known as cinnamon verum. This cinnamon was, in many respects, identical to the twenty first century cinnamon still produced today in Ceylon as producing and shaping the bark is such a delicate job, even modern technology has not been able to match the skill [The Spice Trail].


As this Ceylon cinnamon grew in importance and contemporary use, occurrences of references to “cinnamon” increased drastically throughout the first half of the eighteenth century up from the seventeenth, leveling off around 1780 and remaining steady for the rest of the century as cultural cinnamon saturation reached its peak. This popularity also codified the spelling around the midpoint of the century as “cinnamon” rather than any of the more unusual variants such as “cinnamon”, “cynamon” or “synamon”, all of which had been used in the 16th and 17th centuries. These two Google NGram charts show the appearances of "cinnamon" 1600-1900:


and the rapid rise in the eighteenth century: 

Because it was such an ordinary part of everyday life, it is difficult to study the significance of cinnamon. There are no existing documents tracking the price change over the course of the century, and apart from a period during the fourth Anglo Dutch war it was rarely given any kind of literary or political significance. However, tracking the status and use of cinnamon does show a fascinating glimpse into the everyday life of an eighteenth century person and the growing importance of trade and commerce in the eighteenth century.



 The Cinnamon Racket

The production of cinnamon is a process that has remained largely unchanged for the last thousand years. The procedure is highly skilled, and the knowledge has been passed down through families for centuries. However it also requires little to no equipment, which makes labour cheap in the modern day and essentially free for the colonial powers of the eighteenth century as  Joseph de Cossigney noted in 1784, writing that "the preparation of the bark is so easy, as to require no expensive apparatus and by this enables the poorest cultivator to effect it" [p.8].


The main source of cinnamon verum production in the eighteenth century was the island of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), which was a colonial property of the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (the Dutch East India Company, or VOC) from 1640 onwards. The Dutch built much of their economic wealth on their trade monopolies and as cinnamon grew in popularity they held tightly onto their control of Ceylon and, in turn, all of the cinnamon imported into Europe. In 1659 a law was passed making the buying or selling of wild jungle cinnamon outside the mandate of the VOC punishable by death [Illustrations and Views, p.416] and this attitude continued into the eighteenth century as the Dutch refused to relax their tight control of the colony. 


By the eighteenth century, Ceylon was known as the only location where the very best cinnamon would grow, and so the VOC continued to cling onto their monopoly over its production. John Hill in 1750 wrote that “the fine spice we call cinnamon is the bark of a tree growing plentifully in Ceylon, and perhaps peculiar to that island . . . the commerce is thereof monopolized, like the other spices, by the Dutch East India company” [Of the Cinnamon Tree, p.241]. The "perhaps" here is notable - throughout the period alternatives to the expensive Ceylon cinnamon were explored, but none were found satisfactory. In fact, cinnamon was so associated with the region that when the Dutch created a coat of arms for the island, they based it on what the island was famous for – cinnamon, elephants, palm trees and mountains. The shield shows three bales of cinnamon on the ground beside the legs of an elephant, with another bale behind. The elephant also holds yet another branch of cinnamon in its trunk [R de Silva, p.405]. Later in the century, de Cossigny wrote that "The consumption of this article in Europe, Asia, Africa and America, is more extensive than the Clove and Nutmeg together, produces a greater sum, and of course is the most precious of all the spices" [8]. This association between cinnamon and Ceylon helped to make the spice seem mysterious and exotic, an impression which was reinforced by the books such as Hill's and de Cossigny's, which described the process of production and included hand sketched illustrations of various 'exotic' crops and people.




Coat of arms of Dutch Ceylon


By the time de Cossigny was writing cinnamon use was widespread, and it had begun appearing in recipe books as a key ingredient in both savoury and sweet dishes. However, despite their tight control of the cinnamon trade, the Dutch had less luck maintaining a steady stream of production. Much of the cinnamon in Ceylon was found growing wild in the Kandayan region, but there was constant unrest in this are of Ceylon, resulting from political tension between the local leaders and the Dutch overseers. In 1785 Johann Christophe Wolf wrote his Life and Adventures, where he described the way cinnamon was grown and collected on the island:


 The fences and out-posts along the coast form a circuit of more than a-hundred and sixty miles. The cinnamon-woods are thirty in number; all these are the absolute and entire property of the Company; and besides these, there are many more woods in the middle of the country, which the emperor orders to be barked, and is obliged to deliver the cinnamon of them to the Company. [342]


The "emperor" in question was the leader of the people who lived in the Kandayan region, who as Wolf notes was "obliged" by the Dutch to deliver his cinnamon supply to them to be sold by the VOC. However, as relations between the two groups became fraught the Dutch began cultivating specific cinnamon gardens, where the supply could be controlled and protected in an attempt to combat this problem, which Wolf also references. The creation of these private gardens could not solve the problem entirely, and production remained troubled as the growth in cinnamon’s use meant that the Dutch hold over Ceylon became a sticking point for those who resented their trade monopolies - or more pertinently, wanted such wealth for themselves. The British East India Company had been a strong presence in nearby India since the beginning of the seventeenth century, but around 1750 they began to shift from being merely a trading presence to accumulating political power and exerting military dominance to subdue the remaining states to British rule, effectively establishing India as a colony . After establishing themselves in India, the East India Company set their sights on Ceylon and the cinnamon trade. In Wolf's Life and Adventures he wrote about a British scheme he had witnessed whereby:


"they have several Chiahias, or cinnamon peelers, whom they have enticed away from Ceylon, and persuaded them to enter into their service: these men bark the young trees there in such a manner, that there is no better cinnamon produced in the whole world. And in general, the English hurt the Dutch greatly by this method of procedure; for, though the wild cinnamon should not be quite so fine as their's, yet it may very well be used as a spice for the table, and is likewise just as good as the other for medical purposes. [346]


VOC gate on the Wolvendhalkerk, the governor’s mansion on Ceylon.

VOC gate on the Wolvendhalkerk, the governor’s mansion on Ceylon.



During the Anglo-Dutch war of 1780-84, cinnamon, Ceylon and the Dutch were so connected as to appear as a shorthand for Dutch tyranny and economic monopolies in at least one political poem. Annus mirabilis; or, the eventful year eighty-two (published in 1783 during the fourth Anglo-Dutch war), was a deliberate echo of Dryden's earlier Annus Mirabilis poem, which celebrated 1666 as a year of miracles (those miracles including the second Anglo-Dutch war). The updated version was also centered around the military victories the British had enjoyed in 1782, mostly against the Dutch. The focus of the poem pans across Europe, discussing the French in great depth before moving onto the Netherlands and their colonial properties. In order to symbolise these locations, the author - William Tasker - used cinnamon as a shorthand for Ceylon and the trade monopoly. This is the major instance in the century of cinnamon figuring as a literary political symbol.


Annus Mirabilis, pages 22-3


This tension between the two forces continued to simmer even after the end of the Anglo-Dutch war, until the winter of 1794/5 when the Netherlands were invaded by the French and the new Batavian Republic was proclaimed in Amsterdam [Schama, p.189-90]. The stadtholder William V fled to Great Britain the same day seeking shelter from the French. The British had been allies of the Dutch ruler, and so allowed him to stay in the country. While staying in the 'Dutch House' at Kew Palace, he wrote a series of letters surrendering Ceylon, among other territories, to the British for 'safekeeping'. The English Government promised to return Ceylon and other colonies to the Dutch after the war was over, but unsurprisingly once the British had gained control of Ceylon they did not relinquish their new found monopoly. William V later renounced his title of stadtholder and recognised the new Batavian Republic in 1801 [Schama 437].


Making Cinnamon


                  The Cinnamon Tree in On the Cinnamon Tree

The Cinnamon Tree in Of the Cinnamon Tree, 1750

Herodotus in The History wrote that cinnamon was produced from the nest of huge ‘cinnamon birds’, who collected the sticks from unknown sources and used them to construct huge nests balanced on the tops of sheer cliffs. In order to bring the sticks down to earth, people would kill animals and leave the bodies at the foot of the cliffs at bait. The birds, unable to resist, would then carry these animals up to the nests, where the weight would unbalance them and bring the sticks down to earth where they could then be collected and sold [The Spice Trail].


In fact, the process is considerably simpler and less dramatic. The cinnamon trees are cut down and the outer layer of bark is scraped off. Skilled cutters then slice the second layer of bark away from the branch and immerse these in water for up to eighteen hours before leaving them to dry out in the sun. Finally, the bark is collected and smaller pieces placed inside larger ones to form a long roll, which is slowly rolled tighter to produce the signature ‘quill’ [The Spice Trail].


This process is exactly the same today as it was in the eighteenth century, and no machinery has yet been invented that can emulate the action of the cinnamon workers efficiently and effectively. Joseph Francois Charpentier de Cossigny described the process in great depth in On the Culture and Preparation of the Cinnamon, and his description of the production process for cinnamon in 1784 is identical to that used today:


"After scraping off the exterior bark ... the ligneous affords the proper cinnamon covering the wood … this bark being divided into slips on the branch is removed ... The cinnamon after being kept immersed ten, twelve, fifteen or eighteen hours according to the degree of thickness of the bark (and this latter depending on the size of the branch, from which it is taken) is drained on a cloth and exposed to the sun until dry." [p.7-8]


Articles such as this one perhaps show the eighteenth century desire to demystify previously semi-magical stories, such as the production of cinnamon, through scientific discussion and description. This is shown in Hill's illustration of the cinnamon tree, which is conspicuously not the nest of a huge "cinnamon bird" and was published in the British Magazine to be disseminated widely.


The primary cinnamon produced and exported by the VOC was cinnamon verum, or Ceylon Cinnamon. However, there were varying grades of this cinnamon differentiated by their growers. A 1796 Account of the Cinnamon Tree lists these as:


                1. R(o)ffe Curundu ie. Honey Cinnamon, which is the best and most agreeable…

                2. Nai Curundu, or Snake Cinnamon…

                3. Capuru Curundu, or Camphor Cinnamon…

                4. Gabatte Curundu, that is, astringent or austere Cinnamon [p.102].


According to its author these are the only kinds which should be used for cinnamon production. The perceived need to differentiate between grades of cinnamon shows just how important it had become. From its early roots to this careful differentiation of taste and quality, the status and significance of cinnamon seemed well established by the end of the eighteenth century. 


The Price of Spice




The exact price of cinnamon is difficult to track across the century, because there were different qualities of cinnamon fetching different prices. The fluctuations could be rapid week to week, and the price rarely remained stable for long. Because of the Dutch control, many documents stating the price use guilders as currency, which is very difficult to accurately convert to contemporary British currency. However, from the sources extant the price of cinnamon can be seen to gradually increase over the course of the century as it became ever more popular and the Dutch maintained their careful control of the supply.


A list in 1729 published in The Universal Spectator and Weekly Journal lists the prices of multiple goods available in London and puts the price of cinnamon down as 7s 9d per pound. KM de Silva notes in A History of Sri Lanka that there was a “sudden and prodigious increase in the price of cinnamon in the mid-eighteenth century -- from 3 guilders to more than 6 a pound" [p.164]. As noted, it is extremely difficult to “translate” the mid Dutch guilder into its equivalent British sterling worth so exactly how much this would have signified to the British market is uncertain. From the sources below I have approximated a graph showing the price in shillings per pound which gives a very rough idea of the price increase:



After 1729 there is a dearth of sources citing the price of cinnamon until, interestingly, it begins to recur frequently in records from the Old Bailey. From around 1780 onwards, cinnamon begins to feature in cases of theft – and in each case, its value is noted for compensation. In 1782 six pounds of cinnamon were valued at £5, in 1783 6 ounces were valued at 4 shillings, and in 1784 one ounce was valued at 1 shilling. There are other cases as well where cinnamon had been stolen and although they don't note the price, there is an interesting thread between them. In all cases the cinnamon was stolen alongside other spices, usually from a grocer. The case in 1782 revolved around the accused, John Penny, having stolen a parcel of spices that were on their way to Exeter from a London grocer. Alongside the cinnamon, the parcel included "fourteen pounds weight of nutmegs, value 8 l. [and] four pounds weight of mace, value 5 l". A similar case earlier in 1759 involved a much more eclectic range of objects:


"1 silver salt spoon, value 6 d. 6 pounds weight of loaf-sugar, 7 pounds weight of moist sugar, one ounce of mace, one quarter of a pound of pepper, half an ounce of cloves, three ounces of nutmegs, one quarter of a pound of chocolate, two pounds of tea, and one ounce and half of cinnamon"


Again, the spices were stolen from a grocer (although in this case the accused was his maid, rather than a passing stranger). These cases show the potential resale value of cinnamon, and the increasing importance of its role in the spce economy. Earlier cases in the century mostly use cinnamon as a descriptor ("cinnamon colour'd coat", "cinnamon color'd hair") but from the middle of the century onwards it began to feature in theft cases as a commodity in its own right.


In the 1790s, adverts also began to appear in magazines publicising the price of cinnamon alongside other imported spices. In 1796 cinnamon was 14-15s per pound and the author notes that the prices are much dearer than they used to be (and that even then they thought it was expensive). Later in 1797 the price has dropped to 11-12s per pound – which, the author notes, is still 2 shillings per pound lower than the week before. It would appear from these advertisements that the price has leveled out somewhat from its increase earlier in the century. However, due to the lack of sources citing price it is extremely difficult to say definitively.











Adverts in London Markets, 1796 (left) and 1797 (right)


This lack probably results from the volatile nature of the market. Those who needed to buy cinnamon simply bought the cinnamon and didn’t wait until it was cheap. Due to the Dutch monopoly it was unlikely to be found radically cheaper elsewhere, and so there was no real gain in advertising the price of cinnamon in widely available magazines. It was only after the Dutch ceded ownership of Ceylon to the British in 1795 that cinnamon suppliers begin to advertise in newspapers, which supports this supposition. Now that cinnamon was a British supply its price began to fluctuate after the strict Dutch control was removed, and gradually decrease. There were also contemporary accusations that the Dutch were destroying crops to artificially keep the price high, especially during the period 1780-84, when Britain and the Netherlands were again at war. This would account for the spike in price around the beginning of the 1780s. How accurate this accusation was is impossible to know for sure, but that it was made shows how important cinnamon was.



Extract from "The New Christian's magazine", printed 1782-84



Alternatives to Cinnamon


Possibly due to this price increase, there are sources across the century which posit various substances as alternatives to expensive Ceylon cinnamon. In 1751 John Hill wrote A history of the materia medica, containing descriptions of all the substances used in medicine, which posited cassia as an alternative to cinnamon, noting that it “much resembled it [cinnamon] in appearance”, but was “considerably cheaper” [686]. Taylor White in 1759 later wrote A Discourse on the Cinnamon, Cassia, or Canella, which stated that “the intent of this paper is to shew, that the Cassia of Malabar and Sumatra might answer all the valuable purposes of the Cinnamon of Ceylon”. Malabar and Sumatra were still properties of the VOC in 1759, so his intent, like Hill’s, seems to have been based on financial, rather than national motivations. 


Another suggested alternative was canella, which according to Geoffroy Étienne Francois was “unknown before the discovery of America” [A new treatise on British and foreign vegetables, p.87], but again could serve as a tolerable – and cheaper – alternative. Being found in America, it would also have been easier for the British to control than the Dutch Ceylon cinnamon - at least, for the first half of the century. It was also found in Malabar, as John Nieuhoff wrote in 1732:


Malabar produces prodigious quantities of wild cinnamon trees, but the cinnamon is neither in smell nor in goodness comparable to that which grows in the isle of Ceylon…The Portuguese call this wild cinnamon Canella [p.273]


"Wild Cinnamon Tree" in Nieuhoff [p.274]


However, neither of these alternatives seem to have caught on, as the use of specifically Ceylon cinnamon remained predominant across the century. 



Spice up Your Life

(or: the culinary use of Cinnamon)


In the world of eighteenth century cuisine, cinnamon served a wide variety of purposes, and its use was widespread and increasingly common. Interestingly, despite the need to import the spice and the climbing prices throughout the century, cinnamon’s usage because standard across multiple types of recipes. Over the course of the century, its use in dedicated recipe books increased significantly (even accounting for reprinted editions): 


Use of “Cinnamon AND Recipe” in books 1700 – 1800 on Historical Texts


There are far too many recipe books featuring the use of cinnamon to be able to read and analyse them all, but generally the use of cinnamon recurs across similar "types" of recipes. Puddings, for example, often feature liberal use of cinnamon. However, there are also some more unexpected uses.




This confusing variety can be seen in one recipe book, The Frugal Housekeeper, which was published in 1778 and contained eight recipes using cinnamon in some form or another: Quaking Pudding [75], Hasty Pudding [79], Apple Pudding [76], to 'Ragoo' [sic. Ragout] a rump of beef [100], White Pot [137], Rice Cheesecakes [135], Cordial Water [153 – the recipe also includes a pint of brandy and a pint of ale], and Light Pudding [73]. In this book, its use appears to be predominantly sweet – except for the beef, which does seem somewhat out of place. Its use in a book specifically aimed at ‘frugality’ suggests its use was considered relatively common, and the spread across ‘types’ of recipes supports this theory – although predominantly it appears to have been used for puddings. The combination of cinnamon and sugar was as popular in the eighteenth century as it is today, with both often featuring alongside each other in both pudding recipes and alcoholic drinks. Other recipe books similarly show a wide number of applications for the ingredient.


The Complete Practical Cook published earlier in 1730 suggests the use of cinnamon in “Asparagus, or Artichoke Tart” [139], which requires “Asparagus one hundred pretty large” with “cinnamon and ginger” amongst other ingredients - an interesting combination. Artichoke Tart is very similar, but for this recipe the artichoke “strings” are beaten with “bisket”, marrow, sack and cinnamon. Both tarts can be covered with candied lemon to finish. Alongside the more standard applications of cinnamon in this recipe book (Sago Pudding and Rice pudding recur in multiple forms), there are some similarly confusing recipes which, like the tarts, seem to blur the distinction between sweet and savoury. One in particular, a “Capon in White Broth” requires a “stick of cinnamon” and “a good knuckle of veal”, “capons” and “lumps of marrow” [35]. Special mention also goes to the “Meat for Minc’d Pies”, which begins with three pounds of tongues and suet, and is then seasoned with “Salt, Cloves, Mace, Cinnamon and Ginger … Sugar, candy’d Citron, Orangado and Lemon” and then, as expected, “some Rhenish wine and Sack” [146]. Finally, the “Fricasse of Trotters, or Calves Feet” again specifies “Salt, Nutmeg, Cinnamon and Ginger” as seasonings for the boiled calves feet [113].


Recipes from The Complete Practical Cook [pages 146, 172, 193]


Aside from the confusing nature of these recipes, an interesting feature is that in the majority of the recipes from The Complete Practical Cook cinnamon is used as part of what appears to be a basic list of seasonings. Salt, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger are the five basic seasoning ingredients which recur repeatedly in various combinations and for all kinds of recipes. These five (along with sack for alcoholic content) appear to have formed some kind of flavour base, at least for the complier of this recipe book. A similar profile features in Elizabeth Moxon’s English Housewifery, published later in 1749 which has salt used as the most common seasoning (there are nearly 300 mentions), followed by lemon peel or zest, pepper, nutmeg, parsley, cinnamon and ginger. This appears to suggest that cinnamon was perceived as a basic spice as early as 1730 – although it is worth noting that these recipe books were not aimed at working class families. Charles Carter, author of The Complete Practical Cook was in fact the “cook to his Grace the Duke of Argyll, the Earl of Pontefract, the Lord Cornwallis” as was proudly stated on the frontispiece of his book, and his recipes were “fitted for all occasions: But more especially for the most grand and sumptuous entertainment”. This shift across the century from featuring predominantly in wealthy and high class recipe books aimed at professional cooks to being used for a wide variety of recipes in a book focused on frugality demonstrates the spreading use of cinnamon – possibly due to fashion, or simply saturation in the culinary consciousness.

This video demonstrates how to make an authentic eighteenth century bread pudding (even down to the outfit and whisk). The cookbook the series is based on is a 1796 American one by Amelia Simmons, but it is similar to many of the earlier English pudding recipes and does show the cooking processes and techniques used. 




As well as being used in food, cinnamon features in a considerable number of alcoholic recipes. In The Young Ladies School of Arts from 1770, the author notes that "To make the best Usquebaugh. To four pints of brandy ... cinnamon ... put to it an equal quantity of good white port, and two pints of canary” [194]. In another recipe for cinnamon water, a quarter of an ounce of oil of cinnamon is added to sugar and as much whisky as required [133].  Cinnamon here appears to be mainly used as a flavouring ingredient in the creation of various whisky flavoured and highly alcoholic drinks. Cinnamon and wine was a regular combination as well, although this was generally used for more 'medicinal' purposes.


The use of cinnamon flavoured alcohol is referenced in Pamela, where the protagonist writes in one of her letters that "Mrs. Jewkes brought two bottles of cherry-brandy, and two of cinnamon-water, and some cake; and they were put up in the portmanteau, with my father's newly presented clothes" [324]. The cinnamon water referenced here was a compound spirit. There are many recipes, which show a wide possibility of ingredients (brandy in particular seems to have been popular). Its being given as a gift appears to demonstrate a perceived desirability. It is also significant that this is one of the few references directly made to cinnamon or cinnamon water in literature of the period. The specific mention in Pamela may be because of the character's low-born class status. The epistolary structure of the novel means that it includes many details which give the reader a taste of Pamela's everyday life - particularly in the passages describing her clothes. Referring to cinnamon water may be another of these life-like details, mentioning an everyday or commonplace object to increase the verisimilitude of the text.


Pamela also mentions another alcoholic drink given to her by Mrs Jewkes, this one “half a pint of burnt wine, made very rich and cordial, with spices; which I found very refreshing, and set me into a sleep I little hoped for" [254]. Although not specified, the spices probably involve cinnamon. The connection between alcohol, cinnamon and Mrs Jewkes is interesting, because although associated with the wealthy estate in the novel, Mrs Jewkes herself is not a wealthy or high status figure. This may suggest the spread of cinnamon’s use away from being the preserve of the elite recipe book of 1730 and towards popular usage. The a steady increase in the number of recipe books containing references to cinnamon across the century which would support this theory.



 The Magical Power of Cinnamon

(or: cinnamon's medicinal usage)

 As cinnamon’s popularity increased, its use became pervasive across all areas of eighteenth century life - and medicine was no exception. During the second half of the century, it began to feature prominently in the popular genre of medicinal recipe books filled with homemade cures, targeted at those who could not afford or reach a Doctor. The use of cinnamon became ubiquitous in these books, and it appears to have been used as a cure for a wide variety of unconnected illnesses and problems, functioning almost as a magical cure all. Its most basic use was in preparing cinnamon water, or cinnamon syrup, both of which could then be used as base ingredients for other medicines or on their own (albeit normally only when combined with large amounts of alcohol). Richard Lower in 1700 gave his recipe for syrup of Cinnamon as:


     Take 4 Ounces of Cinnamon grossy powder'd, a Pint and an half of Claret, put them into a Glass Viol, close stopt; set it in the Sun 9 or 10 days, or infuse in a Skillet of warm Water 24 hours; shake the Viol often, strain the Liquour from the Cinnamon, and with a Pound of Sugary boil it to the thickness of a Syrup [46].


Title page of Dr Lower's Recipe Book, 1700


Cinnamon water was made similarly, as a recipe from 1795 states:


Spiritous Cinnamon Water: Take of cinnamon bark one pound, proof spirit and common water, of each one gallon. Steep the cinnamon in the liquor for two days; then distill off one gallon [Domestic medicine, 521].


 From records at the Old Bailey, "cinnamon water" appears to have been sold in taverns, as an accuser states in a case in 1748 that "On Friday the 30th of Sept. between ten and eleven at night, or before the watch went eleven, the prisoner came into my shop, and asked for a penny dram of cinnamon water". If this cinnamon water was made similarly to the recipe from 1795 then it would definitely have been fitting in a pub. Being able to buy what in theory was a medicinal cure in small quantities signals its everyday use as a restorative. The use of cinnamon in drinks designed to "refresh" is likely influenced by its medicinal uses as much as culinary. The only significant difference between these two recipes is the reduction of the syrup, but notably similar is the high levels of alcohol in both. Cinnamon and wine or simply "proof spirit" was a popular combination used as the basis for many of these medicinal "recipes". Cinnamon does appear to have partially functioned in many recipes as a flavouring ingredient as much as for any medicinal properties. Another of Lower’s preparations (this time for colic) recommends the patient:


take of Rue and Chamomile Water of each 1 Ounce. Cinnamon-water an Ounce, liquid Laudanum 20

Drops, Syrup of white Poppies an Ounce [25].


In Robert White’s The Present Practice of Surgery in 1786 he recommends its use in creating "Thebaic Tincture, or Liquid Laudanum”. Various forms of alcohol and laudanum recur repeatedly throughout these recipe books as the base ingredients in many recipes for a variety of illnesses. Cinnamon similarly features alongside them, which suggests more than anything that it was perceived as an common, basic ingredient.


In Of the Cinnamon Tree in 1750, John Hill wrote that “though it [cinnamon] be an excellent cordial, and highly beneficial in palpitations of the heart, yet, by being too often used, it has been found to bring on the same disorder” [243]. Lower similarly wrote that his cinnamon water proved ‘an admirable thing to Comfort the Stomach, Heart and Womb’ [46]. It was also recommended for use in midwifery, as A Treatise on the theory and practise of midwifery published in 1764 suggested, with a recipe detailing “water gruel boiled up with mace and cinnamon, to which when strained, is added a third or fourth part of white wine” [261] to be eaten during and for up to nine days after delivery to build and maintain strength. Arguably the high quantity of alcohol would have been of more use, but the cinnamon does seem to have been an important ingredient, as Lowell in his recipe for cinnamon syrup notes that “being given in a little Cinnamon-Water, [it] helpeth hard labour” [46]. 


As well as its use for heart palpitations and midwifery, cinnamon was regularly referenced as vital for good dental hygiene in medicine and housekeeping books. In 1778 a recipe for tooth powder recommended the reader:


Take prepared pumice stone, sealed earth, and prepared red coral, of each one ounce, dragons blood, of cream of tartar an ounce and a half, cinnamon a quarter of an ounce, and cloves a scruple; beat the whole together into a powder. This powder serves to cleanse, whiten, and pre-serve the teeth" [The Frugal Housekeeper, 186-7]


Dragon’s blood (which is actually “a bright red gum or resin, an exudation upon the fruit of a palm, Calamus Draco, sourced mainly from Indonesia” rather than ‘real’ dragon’s blood), red coral, cinnamon and earth all seem more likely to have stained the teeth various shades of red or brown rather than whitening them, while pumice stone would have ground them down considerably, especially with prolonged use. What is notable in this recipe however is the use of two exported substances with semi mythical qualities being used in a book focused on frugality for the preparation of something as mundane as tooth powder. Interestingly enough, cinnamon is still used today in some ‘organic’ tooth cleaning recipes, and today Cinnamon Oil has been found to be highly effective in preventing the growth of oral micro bacteria, perhaps vindicating this otherwise extremely strange recipe.


By 1790, the medicinal uses of cinnamon had increased to the point that it was used as the first ingredient in a powder to prevent the plague, in a recipe published in Universal Magazine. Other ingredients include “Unicorn’s horn”, “red coral”, “ivory” and the “bone of a stag’s heart”. Its actual efficacy seems highly debatable, but the large quantity of cinnamon used further demonstrates its reputation.


Recipes for the Plague, 1790


Other uses for cinnamon include variously: powder for embalming [White 456], “Saline, or Fever Mixture” [491], “dentrifice to re-cover teeth” [297], a cure “For the Bloody Flux” [Lowers 211] (which unsurprisingly also requires a “half pint of Claret”), Most optimistically, an American book of 1795 includes a cinnamon based “cure for Old Age” (“chew cinnamon daily, and swallow your spittle” [The Family Adviser 65] although other options include “be electrified daily” in case the cinnamon is unappealing). Some of these recipes seem to recommend cinnamon for the benefits of smell (the recipe for embalming powder for example suggests that if the spices can’t be found, "the best substitutes are those which are the most fragrant"), but the sheer volume of its uses do suggest a perceived medicinal benefit. Despite the confusingly wide range of illnesses cinnamon was suggested to treat in the eighteenth century, there may actually be some legitimate 21st century medical science justifying its use. The internet is filled with people claiming to have cinnamon to cure their illnesses, and according to the US National Library of Medicine there is evidence cinnamon can be used to treat: chronic wounds, some types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's Disease, Multiple Sclerosis and HIV. Eighteenth century doctors might have been onto something after all.





Annotated Bibliography


Primary Sources


Anonymous. The frugal house-keeper, or, the compleat cook. London, 1778. Historical Texts. Web. 9 December 2015.

A useful recipe book with repeated use of cinnamon. Significant especially for its focus on frugality, which gave me a good idea of how cinnamon was viewed as an ingredient towards the end of the century.


Anonymous. An Account Of the Cinnamon Tree. The Scots magazine, 1739-1803 (Feb 1796): 101-103. Proquest. Web. 10 December 2015.7

An interesting account of cinnamon and its production. This also gave me a view into the differentiation of cinnamon types and qualities, but lacked further explanation - which was unhelpful.


Anonymous. London Markets.

The Observer 1791 – 1900 (25 September 1796): 3. Proquest. Web. 7 March 2016.

The Observer 1791 – 1900 (15 January 1797): 3. Proquest. Web. 7 March 2016.

Both of these are adverts in The Observer charting the changing price of cinnamon, alongside other spices. They were the earliest example I could find of a shift in the price and trade of cinnamon after the British took control of Ceylon. 


Baker, Henry. The Price of Several Goods. The Universal Spectator and Weekly Journal, 30 (July 5, 1729): 129-129. Proquest. Web. 7 March 2016.

             The earliest source documenting the price of cinnamon that I could find. Great detail about trading in London but a focus on general goods rather than specifically spice prices.


Buchan, William. Domestic medicine: or, a treatise on the prevention and cure of diseases by regimen and simple medicines. Edinburgh, 1791. Historical Texts. Web. 29 February 2016.

               An example of an eighteenth century medical recipe book of cures. Liberal use of wine and cinnamon, usually together. I found the idea of "domestic" medicines                interesting - which would mean you could escape the Doctor and save money at home, further bolstering cinnamon's claim as a catch all cure.


Carter, Charles. The Complete Practical Cook: or, a new system of the whole art and mystery of cookery. London, 1730. Historical Texts. Web. 2 March 2016.

Definitely not a recipe book I would consider using. Wide variety of recipes both sweet and savoury which use cinnamon, and interesting because of the status of its author and the status implication of cinnamon. Very liberal use of bone marrow.


Charpentier de Cossigny, Joseph François. A translated extract of a treatise on the culture of the coffee and cinnamon ... as practiced at Mauritius 1784. Unknown, 1784? The Making Of The Modern World. Web. 4 Nov. 2015. 

             One of the most complete descriptions of the production and exportation of cinnamon from Dutch Ceylon, particularly useful for the in depth details. Fascinating              detail about the production of the quills, as the detail de Cossigny gives is identical to the process still used today.


Hill, John. Of the Cinnamon Tree. British magazine, 1746-1751 (Jun 1750): 241-243. Proquest. Web. 10 December 2015.

One of the best pieces describing cinnamon and its production, and also featuring a drawing of the cinnamon tree. 


Hill, John. A History of the Materia Medica, containing descriptions of all the substances used in medicine. London, 1751. Historical Texts. Web. 10 March 2016.

Geoffroy, Étienne François. A New Treatise on British and Foreign Vegetables. London, 1751. Historical Texts. Web. 10 March 2016.

Description of alternatives to cinnamon – in this case, canella. There were few references to these alternatives that I could find in other texts, but this had the lengthiest and most detailed description, as well as outlining the negatives which meant it never took over from cinnamon.


Lower, Richard. Dr. Lowers, and several other eminent physicians, receipts containing the best and safest method for curing most diseases in humane bodies : very useful for all sorts of people, especially those who live remore [sic] from physicians. London, 1700. Historical Texts. Web. 29 February 2016.

A recipe book for the ages. Multiple uses of cinnamon in a wide variety of contexts for a worrying variety of illnesses. Very interesting to read and demonstrative of the wide applications of cinnamon for medicinal purposes.


Moxon, Elizabeth. English Housewifery. Leeds, 1749. Historical Texts. Web. 1 March 2016.

A particularly popular recipe book in the eighteenth century, this gave me an insight into the rising status of cinnamon because of the sheer number of references.


Nieuhoff, John. A Collection of Voyages and Travels. London, 1732. Historical Texts. Web. 12 March 2016.

An interesting piece detailing an alternative to cinnamon and including a drawing of a ‘wild cinnamon tree’.


Old Bailey Proceedings Online

     February 1782, trial of JOHN PENNY (t17820220-60). Web. 10 December 2015.

     April 1783, trial of JAMES PERRYMAN (t17830430-92). Web. 10 December 2015.

     July 1794, trial of MARY COLLYER (t17940716-71). Web. 10 December 2015.

These trial records were all indicative of the role of cinnamon as a commodity. They also usefully included price records as part of the trial, which helped me to establish a rough guide for the changing price of cinnamon. One of them also mentioned cinnamon water, which was a great example of its everyday use and consumption.


Robertson, Hannah. The young ladies school of arts. Containing a great variety of practical receipts. London, 1770. Historical Texts. Web. 10 December 2015.

The main text I found for uses of cinnamon and alcohol (of which there were many). Showed the societal spread of cinnamon in that the text is aimed at “young ladies” and cinnamon (and whiskey) were considered household essentials.


Smellie, W. A Treatise on the theory and practise of midwifery. Dublin, 1764. Historical Texts. Web. 10 December 2015.

               Demonstrative of another medical use of cinnamon – this time, for midwifery. Few mentions of cinnamon though, suggesting this was not a primary usage.


Tasker, William. Annus mirabilis; or, the eventful year eighty-two. An historical poem. Exeter, 1783. Historical Texts. Web. 17 March 2016.

               An interesting political use of cinnamon in a very contemporary poem. Also significant that cinnamon was seen as a 'modern' example of Dutch profiteering in                contrast to the original 1666 poem. Also one of the very few literary references to cinnamon I could find. Interesting to not that this was the only example I could                find of cinnamon functioning as a political symbol.


Tetlow, Richard John. A Recipe for the Plague. Universal magazine of knowledge and pleasure, June 1747-December 1803 (Sep 1790): 153-153. Proquest. Web. 10 March 2016.

Again, demonstrative of another medical use – this time, curing the plague (along with unicorn’s horn, which admittedly seems an implausible ingredient).


White, Robert. The present practice of surgery. Containing the description, causes, and treatment of each complaint; together with the most approved methods of operating. London, 1786. Historical Texts. Web. 10 December 2015.

The most complete list of cinnamon’s medicinal uses, with recipes to give a full view of the ingredients used.


White, Taylor. A Discourse on the Cinnamon, Cassia or Canella. Monthy Review, or, Literary Journal, 1751-1825 (September 1759): 231-231. Proquest. Web. 10 December 2015.

              A piece describing the properties of cassia as an alternative to Ceylon cinnamon. Not a great amount of detail but an interesting alternative nonetheless.


Wilkins, Henry. The family adviser; or, A plain and modern practice of physic; calculated for the use of families who have not the advantages of a physician. Philadelphia, 1795. Historical Texts. Web. 2 March 2016.

Like Dr Lower’s book, another useful medical treatise which listed many recipes and uses of cinnamon.


Wolf, Johann Christoph. The Life and Adventures of John Christopher Wolf, later principal secretary of state at Jaffanapatnam in Ceylon. London, 1785. Historical Texts. Web. 13 March 2016.

             Interesting retrospective on the Dutch presence in Ceylon and some of the tactics used to maintain their monopoly on cinnamon. One of the few texts detailing              the history of Dutch Ceylon in English, which  were otherwise difficult to find.


Secondary Sources


De Silva, KM. A History of Sri Lanka. London, 2005.

This had most use in reading about the Dutch occupation of Ceylon earlier in the 17th century, but did give me an insight into the strength of the Dutch monopoly. It also gave me an example of the price increase, although as it was in guilders this was hard to use. It did signify at least that there was a price change, which gave me the impetus to hunt through British sources.


Marshall, Peter. “The British Presence in India in the 18th Century”. BBC History. 17 February 2011. Web. 20 January 2016.

A quick overview of the British presence in India and the surrounding area. I didn’t use this extensively, as much of it was irrelevant, but it did give me a good overview of the area’s history.


Rajpal Jumar De Silva, R. Illustrations and Views of Dutch Ceylon 1602 – 1796: A Comprehensive Work of Pictorial Reference with Selected Eye Witness Accounts. London, 1988.

Background to the coat of arms of Dutch Ceylon, demonstrating the importance of cinnamon to the economy and its reputation.


Richardson, Samuel. Pamela. Oxford, 2008.

References to cinnamon water and its use as a gift. The only major work of literature I could find in the eighteenth century with direct reference to cinnamon (and the only one on the syllabus).


Schama, Simon. Patriots and Liberators: Revolution in the Netherlands 1780 – 1813. London, 1977.

Very long, very detailed historical background to the revolution in the Netherlands. Only limited mentions of Ceylon but still useful as detail and gave me an understanding of the political climate.


Photographs (hyperlinks in captions where necessary)


Photograph of VOC gate in Ceylon

Photograph of coat of arms of Dutch Ceylon

Charts from Historical Texts and Google NGram

All other book pages from cited works.




BBC 2. The Spice Trail [Documentary originally aired 17/2/2011]. BoB National. Web. 2 March 2016.

     An documentary on the history of cinnamon and pepper and their production. Pepper took up most of the documentary, but the part on cinnamon was still useful because watching its production in the 21st century      was identical to the written 18th century accounts. It also described the story of cinnamon featured in Herodotus, which I found fascinating.


Jas. Townsend and Son, Inc. 18th Century Bread Pudding [Originally posted 2 November 2015]. YouTube. Web. 12 March 2016.

     A web series based on American recipes, and so only partially relevant, but still an accurate demonstration of contemporary cooking techniques and illustrative of the many recipes for pudding. I especially liked      the sticks he used for whisking, because it's not something I would have realised.

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