Like the Greeks and the Romans, the Crusaders were convinced of the truth of many legends about the origins of this delicately fragrant wood. Some believed it grew in the realm of the Queen of Sheba, others that it was found only in a forgotten earthly paradise. The Egyptian traders who made their fortunes dealing in cinnamon were instrumental in spreading these tales as a way of justifying the exorbitant prices they demanded for their precious cargo.

It was only in 1505, when the Portuguese arrived in Ceylon that they discovered the home of cinnamon. They were soon replaced by the Dutch East India Company, thus guaranteeing a monopoly that lasted until the end of the eighteenth century, when the extremely lucrative trade passed into the hands of the English. A symbol of poetry in ancient China, an essential ingredient in Jewish Holy Oil, and a synonym of extravagance and luxury in Rome, cinnamon ensured the fortunes of Arab traders and Venetian doges alike for centuries. It has been written that sailors would know when they were approaching the island of Ceylon because the scent of cinnamon would waft for dozens of miles out into the ocean. After so many long months, such a moment must have been magical. I just love these edges of bark from trees that grow beside the sea, all the way from Madagascar to Malabar.

We make regular visits to the Matale region in the heart of Sri Lanka, where the Organic and Fair Trade NGO through which our producers work is located. There, the cinnamon trees do not exceed three centimetres in diameter. They are first cut in the morning, and then throughout the day are delicately stripped from the tree and coiled into long sheets. Each cylinder of bark is dried in the sun for 1½ hours before being threaded onto long strings and hung in the shade of a shed. Later, the approximately one metre-long coils are inserted inside each other, both to enhance their thickness and to lengthen the sticks to two metres or more. Set to dry for a last time, the cinnamon is cut into sticks of about four to six centimetres. The quality of Ceylan cinnamon is rated on a standard scale, according to which the C4 and C5 grades that we have chosen here are the best. Aside from pepper, cinnamon and cassia are the most frequently used spices in the world: Chinese Five-Spice Powder, Indian Garam Massala, British pudding and French crumble mixes are just a few classic examples. Its warm and intense flavour likely explains its marked presence in north European cuisine.