Cinnamon confusion

Cinnamon-Ceylon

Cinnamon seems like a pretty basic ingredient, right? Even university students and cottage pantries usually have a bottle of ground cinnamon on their otherwise empty shelves. You know all about it, right? Wrong. Turns out many people haven’t  used real cinnamon even if they make cinnamon toast every morning.

Here’s the deal:

Cassia Cinnamon from Indonesia and Sri Lanka is what is most often sold in North American grocery stores. Some spice sellers call it baker’s cinnamon.

Saigon Cinnamon from Vietnam is also a cassia but it has more of the essential oil that makes this cassia more complex and cinnamon-y. As a result, it’s often more expensive than other cassias but still cheaper than Ceylon cinnamon.

Ceylon Cinnamon is the real deal. It’s lighter coloured than cassia cinnamon and the sticks have a finer, less dense and more crumbly texture. Somewhat paradoxically, it is often less pungent than cassia and has a more refined, mellow flavour and bouquet.

Looking for Ceylon Cinnamon in stores can be a frustrating task but I found it recently at Toronto’s The Spice Trader which also has an online store.

How do you feel about being duped all these years about cinnamon? I admit that I’m 63.7% bitter about it.

Photo credit: www.thespicetrader.ca

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27 Responses to Cinnamon confusion

  1. I didn’t know about the differences between Saigon and Ceylon cinnamon, but did know that we tend to get cassia here but call it cinnamon.

    Some people got really silly about cassia since it has a higher (but still very low) level of a toxin in it than real cinnamon. Conspiracy theories ran wild so I just has to rant about it.

    http://christie-corner.blogspot.com/2008/08/you-say-cinnamon-i-say-cassia.html

  2. Barb says:

    I love cinnamon! Love it. I learned a few things about it and different varieties from Penzy’s Spices. They have incredible products.

  3. danamccauley says:

    Penzy’s is excellent. I agree.

  4. When I started seriously cooking in the 60s, it was mainly Chinese cuisine. Then we would actually call for cassia bark in recipes—cinnamon was too expensive and not strong enough for savory dishes. Now, that I moved on to more French cooking, I still use it more in savory dishes than sweet.

  5. cheryl says:

    I got some Ceylon last year and really appreciate its milder, rounder flavor, at least to me. The question is, when I run out, am I going to drive 30 minutes to the Penzeys near me to replace it, or am I going to revert to the cheap stuff that’s found everywhere? Only time will tell.

  6. dinnerwithjulie says:

    Ha – I’m glad you brought this up! I have a little bag of “true” cinnamon that I just got from my neighbours, who happen to also have a new online spice store! Silk Road Spices – they’re wonderful! http://www.silkroadspices.ca/

  7. Sheryl Kirby says:

    I get mine from a place in Little India.

    I tend to use cassia for baking, but use the real cinnamon for curries and masalas where you expect the more traditional flavour.

  8. Barb says:

    Penzy’s do mail order.

  9. Carrie says:

    Another easy way to tell is that real cinnamon tends to be more uniformly round, as opposed to the two ends curled in on each other. When it’s already ground though… no luck. So what do you think Dana, shouldn’t somebody be hounding our government about their labeling laws? How is it acceptable to call a food product something it isn’t?

  10. Rosa says:

    I love cinnamon! A great post. We’ve been duped for far too long!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  11. danamccauley says:

    Have we really been duped? I mean, we all like cassia, right? We all use it pretty happily in our baking. I’m more interested in how it become the norm to sell cassia as cinnamon. In fact, I’d buy cassia if my cinnamon was suddenly labled cassia (does that sentence even make sense?)

  12. This is dinnerwithjulie’s aforementioned neighbour (from the Silk Road Spice Merchant), and I’ve been enjoying reading the reactions to this post! The Charmian Christie’s rant more or less covers it, but as a spice shop owner, I’ll add my two cents to the debate:

    In a nutshell, “cinnamon” is the North American culinary name for the spice derived from a number of plants in the genus Cinnamomum, which encompasses a variety of cassias (Indonesian, Saigon, Chinese) as well as “true” cinnamon from Sri Lanka/Ceylon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum or Cinnamomum verum). Elsewhere in the world, “cinnamon” is reserved only for true cinnamon. Regulating bodies don’t really get involved unless someone is trying to pass off one product as something other than what it is.

    As for why these culinary names evolved differently in different places, it’s probably a combination of things. Ceylon cinnamon is the original variety and has generally been thought superior to cassia. That can account for its being considered “true” cinnamon nowadays.

    Once other Cinnamomum varieties (cassias) made their way onto the market, they began to dominate as they were so much cheaper to cultivate and produce. When spice merchants started introducing cassia to North America, they likely called it “cinnamon” to evoke the more desirable and expensive Ceylon variety.

    So while we may have been duped a bit originally (it would probably take a true spice historian to sort out all the details), cassia has been commonly called “cinnamon” in this part of the world for a long, long time. Most of us (me included!) love cassia (especially the Saigon type) and wouldn’t trade it for anything. The real crime is that true cinnamon has been unavailable here for so long.

  13. cherie says:

    The Spice Trader is one of my favourite stores in Toronto. They probably have every spice under the sun. Great place to shop for gifts for any foodie.

  14. Saro says:

    Hi Dana,

    As a fellow cinnamon lover, I thank you for the eye-opener. Now, I’m off to my kitchen to sniff taste my goods.

    It’s refreshing to find a lively, local food blog to help me get back to cooking. I’m in Montreal.

    Cheers,
    Saro

  15. A Ceylonese says:

    I hope you are aware that Sri Lanka and Ceylon are essentially the same country. The name Ceylon was changed to Sri Lanka on May 22, 1972. Please know this before going off on a tangent.

    • danamccauley says:

      Yes, I”m very aware of this change in the name of the country. However, to the best of my knowledge, the name of the spice remains Ceylon. Like the tea. I would not want to send my readers shopping for a product they couldn’t find.

  16. [...] most of the ground cinnamon sold in supermarkets, this was probably cassia, not Ceylon cinnamon, which some people call “true cinnamon.” I just checked with one [...]

  17. Kurundu says:

    If you would like more information on Ceylon Cinnamon e-mail me at true.cinnamon@rogers.com

  18. Joe, you are absolutely correct, it shows that you’re an authority on the subject. I admire someone that takes the pride you have and with your projecton of information. oSo when i actually do sit down to read material, I appreciate well written and organized blogs like this one. I have it bookmarked and will be back. Thanks.

  19. Iain says:

    both Ceylon “True” cinnamon and Cassia are members of the same genus. They are both True (albeit different) cinnamons.

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