That’s right, there’s more than one type of cinnamon. Two, in fact: Ceylon and cassia.
Though both Ceylon cinnamon and cassia are produced from the bark of trees belonging to the laurel family, Lauraceae, Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) is considered to be “true” cinnamon. This variety is native to Sri Lanka (and is named for that country’s British colonial name, “Ceylon”) and India’s Malabar Coast. Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia or Cinnamomum aromaticum) is native to Myanmar and southern China. Other varieties of cassia are indigenous to India and Indonesia, and there is even an Australian substitute for cassia known as “Oliver’s bark.”
All varieties of cinnamon contain the flavour and aroma compounds cinnamaldehyde and eugenol. Cassia contains more eugenol, and Ceylon cinnamon more cinnamaldehyde, which makes cassia more pungent than Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia is also cheaper, making it a popular substitute for “true” cinnamon. Canadian federal food and drug regulations refer to cassia as “cinnamon or cassia,” meaning that cassia can be sold in Canada under the name “cinnamon.” This means that most “cinnamon” sold in grocery stores in Canada (and in the US) is actually cassia, or a cassia-Ceylon cinnamon blend. Ceylon cinnamon, like the kind sold by Vanillablossom, is generally labelled as such.
Cinnamon was a valuable luxury good in the ancient Mediterranean and Middle Eastern world. The Arab traders who brought cinnamon by land to Europe kept the origins of the spice secret. In order to preserve their monopoly and keep prices high, they told tall tales about where the spice came from. In the fifth century BC, the ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote that enormous birds carried cinnamon sticks to their nests at the top of mountains. To obtain the valuable sticks, people reportedly left huge chunks of ox meat below the birds’ nests. When the birds carried the meat to their nests, the weight of the meat supposedly caused the nests to fall, making the cinnamon accessible. In the first century AD, the Roman philosopher Pliny the Elder theorized that cinnamon was brought from Ethiopia on rafts that used neither oars nor sails.
As early as 2000 BC, ancient Egyptians used cinnamon to make embalming processes smell somewhat less unpleasant. In ancient Rome, cinnamon was a luxury good used in perfumes and wine flavouring, though it was not commonly used as a cooking spice. Pliny the Elder described an amount of cinnamon equal to 350 grams as being worth over five kilograms of silver, which shows how prized cinnamon was in Roman society. In 65 AD, Roman Emperor Nero had a year’s worth of cinnamon burned on the funeral pyre of his wife as a sign of his remorse for having her murdered. Cinnamon also has biblical relevance—it is mentioned in Psalms, Proverbs, Ezekiel, and Revelations.
During the Middle Ages, cinnamon was a favoured spice for banquet foods, and was believed to both stimulate appetite and aid digestion. It was also believed to be an aphrodisiac. Medieval physicians believed cinnamon could soothe respiratory afflictions such as coughing, hoarseness, and sore throats. Like thyme, cinnamon was also used in medieval meat preservation. Compounds called phenols contained in both thyme and cinnamon inhibit bacterial growth, and cinnamon likely helped to disguise the smell of old meat.
Middle Eastern spice traders managed to keep their cinnamon sources secret until the sixteenth century. Christopher Columbus thought he had discovered cinnamon in what became North America, but he was proved wrong. However, Portuguese traders discovered cinnamon in what was then Ceylon circa 1518. The Portuguese controlled the cinnamon trade until the Dutch seized Ceylon roughly a century later. Upon learning of cinnamon growing along the Indian coast, the Dutch coerced the local king to destroy the plants. This ensured the Dutch monopoly of the cinnamon trade. This monopoly was protected by force not only in South Asia, but also in Holland itself. A huge amount of cinnamon was burned in Amsterdam in 1760, in order to create a shortage and maintain high prices. The British took over Ceylon in 1784, but by the 1830s, cultivation in other regions (such as Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Mauritius, Reunion, and Guyana), as well as cassia’s increasing popularity, had diminished the luxury status of Ceylon cinnamon.
Cinnamon was even grown for a time in France, in Paris’ Jardin des Plantes, and the spice’s popularity in French cooking travelled with colonists to Canada. Interestingly, while French culinary interest in cinnamon waned after the nineteenth century, the spice is still used in traditional French Canadian recipes.
Today, cinnamon is also cultivated in South America and other regions with tropical climates. The spice is primarily used in cooking, and its bold flavour is valued worldwide. It compliments meats such as beef or lamb, and is also used in a variety of baked desserts and hot beverages. Cinnamon has been shown to have antifungal, antiviral, bactericidal and larvicidal properties, and is still used as a natural medicine. In India, cinnamon is used as a painkiller, and is used to treat menstrual pain in both Indian and Chinese society. The spice is also widely used to relieve digestive ailments and stomach pain. Regular consumption of cinnamon is also believed to increase insulin sensitivity and to promote fat metabolism.
Vanillablossom carries ground Ceylon cinnamon as well as cinnamon sticks. Both versions come from Indonesia. The ground version is cinnamon bark which has been dried and ground. Cinnamon sticks are made from the same bark, but rather than being pulverized, the bark is rolled into quills. Cinnamon sticks are generally used to infuse liquid with cinnamon, whereas ground cinnamon is sprinkled onto either solid or liquid food. Cinnamon sticks are also a popular accompaniment to fancy coffees and hot chocolate. Using cinnamon sticks instead of ground cinnamon tends to result in a milder flavour.
Though it hasn’t hit the website yet, Vanillablossom will soon carry Saigon cinnamon, which is a high-quality variety of cassia. Saigon cinnamon’s high concentration of flavour and aroma compounds give this particular type of cassia an especially complex flavour. In contrast, Vanillablossom’s Ceylon cinnamon has a more subtle flavour profile.
When cooking, Ceylon and Saigon cinnamon can be substituted for each other. However, this will change the flavour profile of the dish, and some experimentation may be required to determine personal preference. Generally speaking, Saigon cinnamon, as a type of cassia, is best suited for use in savoury dishes with other pungent spices. Ceylon cinnamon’s more mild flavour can be masked by other strong spices. The one “true” cinnamon is best used in sweet recipes, such as apple pie and churros. Dishes from certain cultures traditionally use either Ceylon cinnamon or cassia. Mexican and South Asian cuisines traditionally use Ceylon cinnamon, whereas the cinnamon referred to in Chinese cooking is traditionally cassia.
Try Vanillablossom Ceylon cinnamon in this fried apples recipe! They can be served with a pork dinner, with a pancake breakfast, on top of French toast, or inside crepes. Add a scoop of ice cream, and fried apples make for an excellent dessert all on their own.
8 medium-sized Granny Smith apples (or tart red apples)
¼ cup butter
½ cup brown sugar
⅛ tsp nutmeg
½ tsp Ceylon cinnamon
2–3 tbsp water
InstructionsPeel and core the apples, then slice them lengthwise into thin wedges, or crosswise into circles. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the apples, sugar, Ceylon cinnamon, nutmeg, and two tablespoons of water to the melted butter. Stirring often, cook until the apples are tender and the sugar mixture becomes syrupy (approximately 15–20 minutes). Add additional water if necessary. For a more tart version, try using lemon juice instead of water.
Truly authentic Mexican hot chocolate is made with Mexican chocolate that already contains cinnamon. However, not all households in northern North America have such chocolate to hand. Try Vanillablossom Ceylon cinnamon in this Mexican hot chocolate recipe! And, don’t forget to garnish with a Vanillablossom cinnamon stick.
Ingredients4 cups milk
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup sugar
1 tsp Ceylon cinnamon
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp chili powder
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of cayenne (optional, for extra heat)
Optional garnishes: whipped cream (flavoured with a dash of Vanillablossom vanilla extract), chocolate syrup, chocolate shavings, Vanillablossom cinnamon stick.
In a saucepan, heat all ingredients over medium heat until simmering. Stir frequently. Remove from heat and serve with toppings of your choice.
Spicy tip: Making a stew that needs to simmer for hours, and that calls for cinnamon? Try infusing with a cinnamon stick instead of using ground cinnamon. Cinnamon sticks release their flavour over a longer period of time, and are better suited to lengthy cook times.
Sourced by Natasha Simpson