I received the book Food in History this Christmas and slowly have been working my way through its pages. I studied anthropology as an undergrad, and really enjoy understanding why we do what we do, and more specifically-the evolution of food.
My favorite dessert spice is cinnamon, maybe because I am allergic to allspice, nutmeg and possibly cardamon-it makes sense that I wouldn't like something that makes me sick! But I am rather obsessed with using cinnamon both in dessert as well as savory dishes.
So apparently, back in "the day," the Roman empire was all about spices. At that time, Arabs controlled much of the spice trade, including cinnamon, which they harvested in Madagascar and then carried up the coast of East Africa to the Red Sea, where they sold its bark.
The Romans, being conquerors of basically everybody, wanted to cut out the middleman and get their own cinnamon. But the Arabs were smart and created a fantastical story about the origins of the spice.
What was their story? Here it goes. No one knows where the cinnamon sticks grow, only that the dry cinnamon sticks are brought by large birds to their mud nests atop unclimbable mountain precipices. To procure the cinnamon sticks, the Arabs cut up dead oxen and donkeys and left large chunks of animal on the ground, underneath the birds' nests. Of course, dead animal flesh proved irresistible to the birds, which carried the meat to their nests. The nests could not support the added weight and would break, falling to the ground. The Arabs then gathered the cinnamon to export to other countries.
And that is how we get cinnamon to this day! ; )