Cinnamon, said to come from the Greek word kinnámōmon, is a spice obtained from the inner bark of various trees which are members of the genus Cinnamomum. It has long been valued by various cultures, using it in religious events and as gifts, and has been used as far back as 2000 BC (source).
This aromatic spice is produced by first allowing cinnamon trees to grow for two years, at which point they are cut near ground level, allowing new branches to grow out of the stumps in a process called coppicing. These branches are then removed, scraped free of their outer bark, then beaten in order to loosen their inner bark. This inner bark is then removed, processed and dried, causing it to curl up into what we are familiar with: cinnamon sticks (source). From this point, it is either sold in stick form or as a powder which has a stronger flavor.
“True Cinnamon” as it is sometimes called, is cultivated mainly from the Cinnamomum verum tree, native to Sri Lanka. This type of cinnamon is also sometimes referred to as Ceylon as it is the name Sri Lanka went by until 1972 (source). A second type of cinnamon is referred to as “Cassia,” which is obtained from related species of cinnamon trees grown in China, Indonesia or Vietnam. When compared to cassia, Ceylon cinnamon is lighter brown in color, less dense, has more of an aroma, and is more subtle in flavor, whereas cassia is a medium to light reddish-brown, more dense, and has a much stronger flavor (source).
Most commonly used in cooking, cinnamon is popular in a variety of cuisines including Middle Eastern, Persian and Turkish, and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.
Cinnamon also boasts various health benefits including its anti-clotting and anti-microbial benefits, blood sugar control, brain function improvement, colon health and heart disease prevention (source).
Fresh cinnamon should have a sweet aroma and is best stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It can also be kept in a cool, dark place such as in a closed cabinet away from heat sources. Ground cinnamon should keep for up to 6 months and cinnamon sticks for up to one year (source).
While true cinnamon should be fine, it is not recommended to consume large amounts of cassia cinnamon over a prolonged period of time, as it contains potentially dangerous amounts of coumarin, a naturally occurring plant component with strong anticoagulant properties (source).