Madagascar is one of two countries outside of Sri Lanka where Ceylon cinnamon grows, the second being Seychelles. The cinnamon tree is native to Sri Lanka and scientifically named Cinnamomum Zeylanicum or Cinnamomum verum. The plant was probably introduced to Madagascar in ancient times by sailors crossing the Indian Ocean on their trading routes. Madagascar and Ceylon cinnamon alike are often referred to as gourmet cinammon.
The export of Madagascar cinnamon was temporarily paused in mid 1990s due to over harvesting by which the complete stem and root were removed. As farmers have since been tought sustainable cinnamon farming methods, which means not to harvest the complete tree with its roots, enough cinnamom trees have now recovered until the ban was lifted and production and export resumed. In 2011, Madagascar produced 2,300 metric tons of cinnamon, approximately 1.1% of the world production.
Madagascar cinnamon grows best in sandy soil, where the tree can grow up to 15 metres in its natural state, but which is cut earlier for harvesting. Harvesting is usually done after the rainy season while the bark is moist and rich in flavour and essential oils. Only the inner bark of the tree is used for the spice.
Madagascar's and Ceylon cinnamon has the lowest amount of coumarin contents compared to other cinnamons. Coumarin is a slightly toxic substance, which is best avoided if taking cinnamon as a health supplement, in teas etc. Cinnamon is used in a wide variety of traditional medicines, and of course in cooking, especially in desserts, cinnamon rolls, muffins and countless other sweets, as well as with coffee, chocolate, rhum etc.
Madagascar's and Ceylon cinnamon alike should not be mixed up with Cassia, scientifically named Cinnamomum aromaticum and commonly known as Chinese cinnamon. It is easy to tell the difference between Ceylon/Madagascar and Chinese varieties. Madagascar cinnamon is sweet, citrusy and delicate in flavour compared with Chinese Cassia cinnamon, which is stronger, more intense and slightly bitter. The bark of Cassia is also strong and rough while Madagascar cinnamon is smooth and paler in colour, crumbly (easy to break). Madagascar/Ceylon cinnamon rolls up like a newspaper from one side, whereas Cassia cinnamon usually curls inwards from two sides forming a hollow tube.
There are many other types of cinnamon but only four commercial types: In addition to Ceylon and Cassia, there are also Saigon and Korintje, however, the latter two are also classified as Cassia. Additionally, there is Mexican cinnamon, but which is in fact Ceylon or the Madagascar variety. Mexican cinnamon has only gained its name because Mexico imports so much of it. To add to the confusion, additional names for Ceylon/Madagascar cinnamon is Real Cinnamon, True Cinnamon, Dutch Cinnamon and Sweet Cinnamon.