Cinnamon is an ancient spice, both kinds of which are mentioned in the Bible. It was very popular in Europe in the Middle Ages and demand for cinnamon and other spices were one of the reasons that Christopher Columbus was seeking an alternate route to the East Indies.
There are actually two kinds of cinnamon: Cinnamomum zeylanicum or "true cinnamon" and Cinnamomum cassia, called just "cassia," "false cinnamon" or "Chinese cinnamon." True cinnamon is native to Ceylon and Southern India, and cassia is native to the Eastern Himalayan Mountains and Southeast Asia. They are made from the bark of different members of the Laurel family, but they have a similar taste. Cassia cinnamon is much more common in the United States, although much of the world tends to think of it as inferior to "true cinnamon." In the U.S., either kind may be legally sold as "cinnamon" so if you want true cinnamon, you'd best check the fine print on the label. In the UK and other countries, cassia must be labeled "cassia" and cannot be labeled simply as "cinnamon." Cassia has a stronger flavor than the more subtle true cinnamon. In American recipes, cassia cinnamon is usually what is meant.
Common Uses for Cinnamon
- As an ingredient in cakes, pies, cookies, cobblers, puddings, and other desserts
- Sprinkled over an apple crisp or apple pie
- Add cinnamon to sugar for cinnamon sugar; sprinkle on cereal, pie crusts, doughnuts, breads, muffins, and more
- As a flavoring ingredient in a marinade for beef, venison, or lamb
- Medicinal purposes for a variety of symptoms and ailments
In Mexico, true cinnamon is used to flavor hot chocolate.
In the U.S., cinnamon and cassia are mainly used in baked goods, but you will find it in some savory dishes. It is an important ingredient in Middle Eastern cooking and in Indian Curries.
Cinnamon sticks, made from the rolled bark of the tree, are commonly used to flavor hot mulled drinks and add wonderful aroma to potpourris. They can also be ground into cinnamon powder.