Definition: Cinnamon is a spice that can be purchased in its ground / powdered form or in the form of sticks (or 'quills'). Cinnamon has a fascinating history, which includes its role in war, its use as currency and its use as an aphrodisiac. The word 'cinnamon' commonly refers to two different spices, both of which are made of aromatic and warming tree barks.
The term 'cinnamon' may also refer to 'cinnamon roast coffee', which is the lightest of all coffee roasts. It is noted for how clearly it showcases the terroir of the coffee beans. It is often used as the default coffee roast in doughnut shops and diners across the United States.
Varieties of Cinnamon
In North America, the most common spice labeled as 'cinnamon' is actually cassia, a similar spice also known as Chinese cinnamon. It is harvested from the bark of the Cinnamomum aromaticum tree. Cinnamomum aromaticum is an evergreen tree native to southern Bangladesh, China, India, Uganda and Vietnam. Cassia is cheaper to produce and has a bolder, less subtle flavor than true cinnamon, so it is sometimes referred to as 'bastard cinnamon.'
The spice more correctly known as cinnamon is harvested from the inner bark of the Cinnamomum verum tree. It is also known as 'Ceylon cinnamon,' a reference to its native country of Sri Lanka (which was formerly known as Ceylon). Today, Ceylon cinnamon is commonly grown in Sri Lanka, India (particularly in the southern state of Kerala), Bangladesh, Brazil, Vietnam, and Madagascar, amongst other countries. Ceylon cinnamon has a delicate, nuanced flavor that works well in sweet and savory foods and drinks. It has a paler color than cassia and is comprised of many thin layers of bark rather than a single coiled strip of bark. True cinnamon is soft enough to be ground in a (clean) coffee grinder.
Other varieties of cinnamon include Cinnamomum aromaticum (a close relative of Ceylon cinnamon, Saigon cinnamon (also known as Vietnamese cinnamon or Cinnamon loureiroi), camphor laurel (Cinnamon camphora), malabathrum (Cinnamon tamala) and Indonesian cinnamon (Cinnamon burmannii).
Cinnamon & Health
Cinnamon is used for a variety of health benefits in alternative medicine. These include treatment for colds, digestive problems and painful menstrual periods. Some people also use cinnamon as a diabetes treatment.
Culinary Uses of Cinnamon
The majority of culinary 'cinnamon' sold in the United States is actually cassia. True cinnamon is more widely available in Mexico and many parts of Asia. Around the world, cinnamon and cassia are both commonly used to flavor foods and beverages. Although it is often used to flavor sweet foods, cassia can also lend warmth and flavor to savory meat and curry dishes. True cinnamon is also sometimes used in savory dishes in the Middle East.
The simplest of these recipes is boiled or infused cinnamon makes cinnamon 'tea', which makes a healthful herbal 'tea'.
Some recipes call for cinnamon sticks / quills while others call for ground / powdered cinnamon. You can also use Cinnamon Simple Syrup to flavor various drinks and foods with cinnamon, Cinnamon Brown Sugar to sweeten and flavor coffee or tea, or Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Butter to top sweet breads and other baked goods.
Before buying your next batch of cinnamon, check out this guide to cinnamon selection and storage.