What is Cinnamon?
Cinnamon is a sweet, woody spice that comes from the bark of cinnamon tree. There are two different types of cinnamon; ceylon cinnamon & cassia cinnamon. While bakery is perhaps the most common usage we think of here in the UK, it is also often used in spice blends and sauces in both Asian and Caribbean cuisine.
What does Cinnamon taste like?
The two types of cinnamon mentioned above have quite different flavour characteristics. Ceylon cinnamon is more aromatic and complex with citrus notes. Cassia cinnamon is much sweeter and more harsh.
What is Cinnamon used for?
It’s not only the baked goods like cinnamon rolls and apple pie which cinnamon is best represented. It also has many uses in savoury dishes as well. Cinnamon is an essential ingredient in Indian cooking where it brings sweetness and warmth to curries and other aromatic dishes. Cinnamon is a regular component of the all purpose Middle Eastern spice mix Baharat which is used to season everything from fish to soup. Cinnamon is among the spices often included in some of our festive favourites, Mulled wine and cider. Cinnamon pairs well with a number of spices including cloves, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, anise, cardamom and coriander. Don’t be afraid to experiment with cinnamon, it’s earthy sweetness might be just what you need to elevate a dish and balance more pungent flavours.
Need some inspiration on how to use this essential spice? We’ve collected a few recipes highlighting cinnamon:
Names and Origin
The name cinnamon derives from the ancient Greek kinnámōmon which is thought to derive from the word amomum, a catch all term for a number of species of plants which spices are derived from. The name cinnamon is therefore thought to mean “Chinese spice”. Ceylon cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka where as cassia cinnamon is native to Chain.
Cinnamon has been used for thousands of years with references to its use as far back as the ancient Egyptians of 2000 BC who used it during the mummification process. Cinnamon was long considered a gift for kings and nobles due to its high price and distant origins.
Cinnamon is made from the bark of the cinnamon tree, a mid-sized evergreen which grows in tropical climates across the world. It has thick oval leaves and can grow upwards of 15m in height. Ceylon trees are native to much of South Asia including India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka whereas cassia is primarily native to China. Today the largest producers of cinnamon are Indonesia, China, Vietnam and Sri Lanka who together produce over 99% of the cinnamon grown each year.
The trees are harvested after coppicing to produce a number of stems. These young stems are allowed to grow for a year before being removed and processed. First the outer layer of bark is stripped away revealing the inner bark from which the spice is derived. The inner bark is removed in long strips which are then dried, curling into the cinnamon quills that are more familiar to most people.
What’s the difference between Ceylon and Cassia?
What you might not know is there are two types of cinnamon used commonly around the world. Both are made from the bark of species of trees in the genus Cinnamomum however they have different flavours. Ceylon cinnamon (C. verum), also known as True cinnamon, has a more mild and aromatic flavour which traditionally made it the more desired and palatable variety throughout history. Ceylon is typically a lighter brown to tan colour and a finer texture. The name Ceylon comes from the previous name of Sri Lanka, the primary producer of Ceylon cinnamon.
Cassia (C. cassia) is a more pungent and spicier variety which responds to the heat of cooking better than Ceylon, retaining more of its flavour. Cassia tends to be a darker reddish brown colouration and typically has a coarser texture. Today the vast majority of Cinnamon you see in supermarkets is Cassia whereas the more delicate Ceylon can be harder to acquire.
Unground cassia and Ceylon both come in the form of rolled quills or sticks of bark. It is easy to distinguish between them as Cassia sticks are composed of a single thick layer of darker brown bark whereas Ceylon is a paler, tan brown and has multiple layers of laminated bark per stick.
Cinnamon has long been used as a medicinal spice throughout the world, particularly in Ayurvedic medicine where it is a warming spice thought to benefit digestion.
Here are some of our delicious blends which make use of cinnamon: Garam Masala and our Caribbean inspired Jerk Seasoning. Or if you’re in the mood for a warm festive drink why not try our Mulled Wine and Cider sachets.