Thursday, February 07, 2013

Taking the sin out of cinnamon

It's that time of year again.

hot cross buns

And as well as that one, it's this one:

Fairtrade Fortnight

That's Fairtrade Fortnight 2013, 25th February to 10th March - a campaign for a fair deal for the people who grow the things we love.

One of the ingredients in hot cross buns is mixed spice. Mixed spice is a microcosm of opportunity for fair trade. Take cinnamon for example - a spice we're mad for in this country. One of its main origins is Sri Lanka, a place close to the hearts of many Barkingside residents.

It was only when I watched a documentary about cinnamon production last year I realised that the cinnamon didn't grow as those tightly wrapped quills - they're a painstaking handmade product and even ground cinnamon starts out this way. The bark must be peeled and wrapped by hand, and the people who do this are paid according to how much is sold and the price it fetches. Even in these superior working conditions you can see how difficult the work is.

Watch this one from 11 min 38 sec.

In the video below (which continues where the one above left off) a dealer  arrives at about 7 min 20 sec to negotiate a price. Afterwards the presenter addresses the camera:
"These four bundles of Preemal's beautiful organic cinnamon represent hours of skilled labour and years of experience. Now Preemal didn't sell them today because he was hoping for a price that equates to roughly £4.80 a kilo in English money, and the man wouldn't give it to him. This [holds up a spice jar] is cinnamon bought in an English supermarket. It's not organic and it's not as high grade as Primal's but it cost £1.37 for 14g. Now there's something not quite right about that, isn't there. That's a 2000% markup. Someone's doing very well out of this trade, but it certainly isn't Preemal or any of the other spice farmers round here."

I love cooking with the quills - they're very intense and let out their flavour slowly. They stay fresher for longer and you can grind them very easily if necessary. Regrettably though, it's impossible to get Fairtrade cinnamon quills in Barkingside at the time of writing. Sainsbury's has Fairtrade ground cinnamon and, along with the Co-op, a few other Fairtrade spices, but sad to say Barkingside's independent grocers - often fantastic places to find spices - aren't on the whole taking due care of producers. So we went on the web and found that if you buy 300g at a time it's as cheap or cheaper than high street cinnamon, it's good for at least a couple of years, and you can split the cost and share it. No problem.

I want to shop on my local high street, but if I have to choose then I choose Fairtrade.

So, buy and ask for Fairtrade on Barkingside High Street, this Fairtrade Fortnight and beyond. Redbridge has been a Fairtrade Borough since 2008 and with your help we can keep this status.

Photo credit: ralph and jenny via photopin cc


  1. I should probably mention that they were selling hot cross buns in the Co-op the day I got back from a week away at New Year.

    1. Marks & Sparks seem to sell them throughout the year.