OLFACTIVE STUDIO X VERGER X THE RAW MATERIALIST
The history of Ceylon Cinnamon – or true Cinnamon – goes way back hundreds of years ago. In our industry – the fragrance industry – Cinnamon is used as a raw material of the spicy family in both fine and functional fragrances.
Endemic to the Island, Cinnamomum verum, is only found and produced in Sri Lanka before being exported all over the globe to become part of famous fragrant compositions.
Ceylon Cinnamon stars in Olfactive Studio’s spicy-musky fragrance Lumière Blanche!
Our natural ingredient reporting team visited the “jewel of the Indian Ocean” to meet Sri Lankan farmers, their families, and local ingredient house Verger to learn about their ancestral heritage and today’s market regarding the production and extraction of Cinnamon into an essential oil
This spice known by everyone, spicy and sweet at once, has also been a must in pastries, pantries and recipes on the western side of the world – all the way from the Indian Ocean. Cinnamon’s most notable use in the flavors industry is definitely in the world-famous drink Coca Cola.
The market of spices is huge in Sri Lanka, and over 90% of their production is exported all over the world – local consumption is very small in comparison.
The total revenue of Sri Lankan spice export represents one billion US dollars annually! Ceylon Cinnamon makes up for about 30% of it – 250-300 million USD – and is followed by other spices like black pepper.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
For Cinnamon Leaf essential oil, the price per kilogram has been as low as $12 per kg and up to $30/kg – in the past 10 years.
For Cinnamon Bark, the quills (tube-shaped cinnamon bark) are classified into many grades and the quillings (quill scraps) are what’s used for distillation. Their price goes from 150 to 500 RS/kg (Sri Lankan Rupee) – 0.5 to 1.5 USD.
About 80% of the tree goes into the much more expensive food grade cinnamon quills and the 20% left is used for the extraction of the bark’s oil.
A GLIMPSE OF CINNAMON’S HISTORY
Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), was named after Sri Lanka’s ancient name “Ceylon”. Historically grown on the island, it possesses a unique scent, universally recognized for its quality.
It’s a true agricultural legacy for the country as it’s the only place where true cinnamon is produced on an industrial scale worldwide.
Sri Lanka was colonized three times for 443 years from 1505 to 1948. First by the Portuguese, then the Dutch, and eventually the British for no less than 150 years each!
Cinnamon has been a big part of the spice trade with these European invaders since the 1500’s.
WHAT ABOUT ANCIENT TIMES?
Thousands of years ago in 2000 BC, Ceylon Cinnamon was already exported all the way to Egypt, and traded for gold. Back then, traders didn’t want to disclose where this material was coming from because they wanted to protect its source.
SRI LANKAN HERITAGE
Ceylon Cinnamon is not only an ingredient for food and fragrances; it’s also used as ayurvedic traditional medicine.
FROM PARENTS WITH LOVE
The work and know-how of cinnamon skilled laborers is a real family heritage: passed onto generations, the children’s training is done by their experienced parents.
This family tradition has been perpetuated for 250 years in Sri Lanka.
The part extracted from Ceylon Cinnamon to produce its essential oil is the plant’s bark, though its raw leaves have been used traditionally to perfume homes for centuries.
They were later on artisanally distilled in the Sri Lankan countryside to obtain Cinnamon Leaf essence, although Cinnamon Bark essence is the one preferred by perfumers in fine fragrance because of its stronger woody facet.
Such oil distilled by ingredient houses such as Verger is used as a heart note in perfumes both for women and men.
Cinnamon trees with leaves in the back & cinnamon branches in front
Inspired by Indian Chai Tea, a black tea – usually Ceylon tea – mixed with spices, Ceylon Cinnamon Bark essence is a key ingredient in Olfactive Studio’s spicy-musky fragrance.
Composed by perfumer Sidonie Lancesseur, Lumière Blanche is a heartwarming subtle fragrance where a spicy explosion of Cinnamon, brings a warm & sweet note.
What other ingredients does it have?
The perfume begins with Cardamom and Star Anise which awaken our senses. It leads us to an elegant heart of Iris, Almond milk and Tonka Bean, then pampers us with a warm sillage of Sandalwood and Cedarwood combined to comforting Musks.
Verger is a Sri Lankan ingredient house & raw material producer. Driven by family values, the company supports and works with farmers and their families. They have two divisions – naturals and botanicals – and sell to the flavors and fragrances industry.
Driven by sustainability, they work closely with the farmers to obtain the most traceable raw materials possible. Verger produces naturals only and sells ethically sourced raw materials from Sri Lanka – mainly spices. Not only Cinnamon but also clove, black pepper, and nutmeg to mention a few.
Verger's factory in Warakagoda (CEO Nuwan Delage, Anna Grézaud-Tostain, and chemical engineer Théo Martinez)
Nuwan Delage (CEO) started his company in 2014 with a small distillation facility in the South of Sri Lanka in Gonapinuwala (Galle district). In 2018 the factory was moved to its current location in Warakagoda (Central Province).
THE PRESENT COMPANY
Today Verger employs 230 employees (32% women). Their 2022 revenue was 10 billion dollars placing them among the top three national companies for spice production and export market share.
ONE DAY IN THE CRAFTING OF CINNAMON OIL
We headed to the cinnamon fields in Nindana (Galle district, South west Sri Lanka) – one of the best spots for cinnamon culture in the area – to meet one of Verger’s cinnamon suppliers: Harshe.
- Started from scratch
- 10 years old (like his business)
- 20 acres of cinnamon trees
- 4200 trees per acre
- 3-5 feet between each tree
- Trees were continuously planted in rows by 10 workers
- Prior preparation of land to prevent erosion
- 20 skilled laborers today
- One recent artisanal distillation plant
- The house is a gem from the 1930’s (British style)
Harshe & his son in front of cinnamon fields
PROCESSING THE RAW MATERIAL
CUTTING THE TREE
- Branches – part of interest
- Mature branches – 6 months old minimum
- Cut made at base of tree for maximum yield
- Every 6 months
- Youngsters are left to grow until next harvesting
- Continuous process
- 10 branches & 10 feet tall maximum per tree – simplifies harvesting
Freshly cut cinnamon branches
- Cinnamomum verum species (≠ Cinnamomum cassia)
- Can reach 25 feet
- 3 years to mature – start of harvesting
- Unbelievable wide roots on centenary trees
- Leaves for distillation only
- Bark for distillation (fragrance industry) & crafting of quills (food & flavors industry)
Cinnamon leaves ready for distillation
We arrived at 10:52AM at a traditional cinnamon peeling center: a humble building right next to the field, just across Harshe’s house.
Peeling the bark is a family affair! Family members: Isuri (wife), Udayakumara (husband), Nitishi (8 year-old daughter) and Nathiru (4 year-old son).
This traditional way of working as a family is very common in Sri Lanka and has been around for a hundred years.
The woman and the man each have their specific part and their kids attentively observe (when not in school) – they’ll follow their parents’ path when they’re old enough.
Step 1: Cut branches
- Done by couple
- 5:30AM – arrival in the fields
- 7:30-8AM – end time
- Work day ends when entire batch of branches has been peeled – evening time
Step 2: Remove leaves
- Done by couple first then Isuri
- From all branches
- One by one – manually
Step 3: Scrape outer bark
- Done by Isuri
- Scrapes outer bark to reveal inner one
- With knife
Scraping of outer bark by Isuri
Step 4: Peel inner bark
- Done by Udayakumara
- Generational man skill
- Rubs each bark with mechanical machine – stimulates oil secretion between inner bark & wood allowing proper separation by peeling
- Makes incision with knife-like tool
- Turns in a circular way all around the branch to detach inner bark from wood
- Obtains tube-shaped quill
Peeling of inner bark by Udayakumara
Step 5: Drying & quill volume
- Done by couple
- Quills left to dry next to one another under the ceiling
- 6 kilograms of bark collected daily
HARD WORK PAYS OFF
Like other laborers, Isuri and Udayakumara get paid by kilograms of bark extracted. Usually, the workers have an agreement with the owner of the property – in this case Harshe.
Once the owner has sold the entire batch of bark they collected, they’ll get the equivalent of one third of the sale in rupees.
Before the sale is completed, the workers get paid advances to sustain their needs on a daily basis. On average they earn 3000 to 5000 rupees per day.
- Distillation of cinnamon leaves only
- Leaves from Harshe’s field or neighbor farmers – leaves sold for 10 rupees/kg
- Producer operated
- One kilometer away from house – facilitates rapid transport
- Continuous oil production during the year
- Built five years after Harshe entered the business
- One stainless steel oven covered in clay – prevents burns
- One wooden distilling tank closed by stainless steel sealed top
- Separation of oil from water – done manually
- Filtration of oil
- Sale of oil to Verger – 3300-3600 rupees/kg of oil
- >100 craft distilleries & hundreds of farmers in the area (Nindana)
Harshe's artisanal distillery (oven & tank in the back)
CINNAMON BARK EXTRACTION
The distillation of the bark is done by Verger in their factory plant by extracting the quills and quillings by hydrodistillation.
Cinnamon bark is classified into different grades based on a few parameters:
- Quills’ diameter – 6 to 9mm ; 9 to 12mm ; 30mm; etc. (main parameter)
- The smaller the diameter the better the quality – hard work & costly labor
- General appearance
- Scent is not a factor at this point
Cinnamon bark grades:
- 10 quill grades
- Used all over Sri Lanka
- Named after cities & places
- From highest to lowest quality – A (Alba), C4, C5 (California), H1, H2, H3 (Hamburg), etc.
- Quillings also divided in 3 grades (smallest chips being the less qualitative) “cata” quality used for extraction
WHERE CAN WE SMELL IT?
You can smell Ceylon Cinnamon Bark oil in these world-famous fine and niche fragrances:
- One million by Paco Rabanne (2008)
- Dioressence by Dior (1979)
- Egoïste by Chanel (1990)
- Lumière Blanche by Olfactive Studio (2012)
- Féminité du Bois by Serge Lutens (2009)
- Eyes Closed by Byredo (2022)
- Crimson Rocks by Amouage (2020)
As for yourself, what do you like about Cinnamon’s scent? And does it bring back any memories?
Anna Grézaud-Tostain for Olfactive Studio