What is Cinnamon? How to Use Cinnamon

FR: Cannelle de Ceylan, Cinnamome GER: Kaneel, Zimt IT: Cannella SP: Canela

BOT: Cinnamomum zelyanicum FAM: Lauraceae ILL: Plate 19, No. 2


FR: Casse, Canefice GER: Kassie IT: Cassia SP: Casia

BOT: Cinnamomum cassia

Cinnamon and cassia, together with half a dozen other plants of the same family (Annam or Saigon cassia, massoia bark, Indian cassia, etc.), all provide products more or less of the same cinnamon flavour. In many countries these will be confused and treated as one article; in others (e.g. England), only the true cinnamon is allowed to be sold as such by law.

Cassia (known in many countries as Chinese cinnamon, cannelle de Chine) is one of the oldest of all spices. It is recorded in China in 2500 B.C. and in Egypt in 1600 B.C., and came into Europe over the spice routes from the East. Even today most cassia and cinnamon comes from the East.

What is Cinnamon? How to Use Cinnamon Photo Gallery

True cinnamon is a more recent introduction. While cassia came originally from Burma, the true cinnamon is native to Ceylon and was known only to the natives there until it was ‘discovered’ by the Dutch.

Both cinnamon and cassia come from small evergreen trees or bushes, with something of the appearance of a laurel. The spice consists of the bark peeled from thin cassia branches, and dried in the sun to form curled-up ‘quills’. In cassia these quills are usually thick with the corky outside bark left on. In true Ceylon cinnamon the corky layers are planed away and the quills are packed one inside the other. The finest quality is pale in colour and looks like a roll of dried paper.

The flavour of cinnamon is more delicate than that of cassia and is not so pungent. It is also more expensive. It is better to use this in sweet dishes and cakes. Cassia nips the tongue and is more suited to spiced meats, pilaus and curries. The tree differs also from cinnamon in that the leaves, buds and even roots have much the same flavour as the bark. In true cinnamon, this is not the case. Dried cassia leaves (and the leaves of related spices) are much used in India (tejpat: often mistranslated ‘bay’), especially in Bengali cooking (in expatriate shops confused with bay leaves), while cassia buds, in appearance vaguely like cloves, are available in Western shops. They are convenient when a little cinnamon flavour is required in meat dishes.

For use in sweet dishes, cakes and biscuits, it is usual to buy cinnamon finely ground as it is difficult to grind at home. It should be bought frequently and kept in closely stoppered bottles. (The tin of stale cinnamon on kitchen shelves is all too frequent.) To flavour syrups or to spice wines or creams, it is better to use fine quality sticks, which can be removed when their work is completed.

The use of cinnamon or cassia with meat dishes is not well-known in European or American cooking, but anyone who has been in Arab countries will recognize the effect of putting a small stick in a mutton stew: the flavour combination with meat is distinctive and pleasant. Cinnamon is also an important flavour of curries and pilaus and, like cloves, has a practical value in hot countries as the essential oil contains phenols, which are powerful discouragers of the bacteria responsible for putrefaction. Cassia is one of the ingredients of the famous Chinese five spices (q. v.).

Do not confuse with the cassia of the pharmacist which is senna pods!

Maybe You Like Them Too

Post tags, Asian cuisine, Cinnamon, Cuisine, Non-timber forest products, Spices.

Leave a Reply

− 4 = 2