Which spice comes from the bark of a tree?
And the answer: cinnamon.
Grown in parts of Asia and South America, cinnamon comes from the bark of a type of evergreen tree. Farmers first shave off the outer bark of the tree, and then shave off the inner bark, which is the cinnamon layer. When cinnamon dries, it naturally curls up into little sticks.
Cinnamon has been used by humans for thousands of years. As early as 2000 B.C., cinnamon was reportedly used by Egyptians and Ancient Roman emperors. It's even mentioned in the Old Testament as an ingredient in anointing oil. This sought-after spice was carried across long and challenging land routes by Arab traders to Europe, where it met great success. Its effective use as a meat preservative bolstered its reputation, and soon it became a luxury good.
In the Middle Ages, cinnamon was a status symbol. Middle class citizens in Europe sought cinnamon as a means of distinguishing themselves and proving their upward mobility. However, to their chagrin, Arab traders kept a firm hold on the spice trade. Interestingly, they were able to keep the source of cinnamon a secret until the early 16th century. Traders spun wild and varying tales to their merchants to maintain their monopoly on cinnamon and ensure the profit of their high price. It wasn't until 1518 that Portuguese traders discovered its origin and cinnamon became more widely available.
Cinnamon has a number of health benefits. Its bark is loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatories -- all good for fighting infection. Check out this article for a few delicious (yet healthy!) recipe ideas.