Different Types of Cinnamon

To many, cinnamon is a one-toned, straightforward spice they exclusively associate with autumn and its fall flavors. In actuality, different types of cinnamon have been harvested for centuries, each with its flavor complexities, origins, and special characteristics that qualify them for distinct dishes.

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Types of Cinnamon

Below, we go over four different types of cinnamon and their unique characteristics:

1. Ceylon Cinnamon

Ceylon Cinnamon

Ceylon cinnamon, also known as “true cinnamon” in reference to its Latin tree name Cinnamomum verum, is the most preferred cinnamon and is commonly found in the kitchens of Mexico and Europe. Ceylon cinnamon has a light brown hue and is made of multiple thin, delicate layers of the inner tree bark.

This type of cinnamon is more expensive as it’s harvested in a crafted process, specifically during the early rainy season in Sri Lanka when the cinnamon’s aromatics are most concentrated. Ceylon cinnamon has a low volatile oil level, so it’s recommended to use it right after it's ground to maximize potential flavor. There are 10 varieties of Ceylon cinnamon that vary in sharpness, sweetness, and spiciness.

  • What Does Ceylon Cinnamon Taste Like? Subtle, floral, fruity, and slightly bitter.
  • Ceylon Cinnamon Uses: Ceylon cinnamon is best used in milk-based recipes such as custards, creams, and especially in Mexican hot chocolate and Horchata. It also works well when cooking or baking with fruits, like jams or fruit butters. Ceylon cinnamon is the preferred cinnamon in European and Latin American cuisines and is a special ingredient in Middle Eastern tomato sauce.
  • Where to Buy Ceylon Cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon is offered at some grocery stores, spice shops, or specialty online retailers.
  • Ceylon Cinnamon Origin: Ceylon cinnamon originates from Sri Lanka, a South Asian island that was previously known as “Ceylon”. Most Ceylon cinnamon is still grown there today and harvested from the delicate inner bark of its tree.
  • Other Names for Ceylon Cinnamon: True Cinnamon and Mexican Cinnamon

2. Cassia Cinnamon (Chinese Cinnamon)

Cassia Cinnamon

Cassia cinnamon is the most commonly used cinnamon in North America. Cassia cinnamon, otherwise known as Chinese cinnamon, comes from the Cinnamomum cassia tree. It has a dark brown hue and is made of a singular thick, hard layer from the base of its tree, carved off with a knife and laid to sun-dry. Cassia cinnamon is a much less expensive option compared to Ceylon cinnamon because its harvesting process is much simpler.

  • What Does Cassia Cinnamon Taste Like? Sweet, warm, hints of spice, and smooth.
  • Cassia Cinnamon Uses: Cassia cinnamon is best used for baking and cooking where you would want the cinnamon to blend with the rest of the flavors in the recipe, acting as a supporting role in the overall flavor. It’s great for easier, more basic recipes such as muffins, fall and winter pies, bread pudding, quick bread, granola, and scones. Cassia cinnamon is also present in a Chinese five-spice blend and other Chinese dishes.
  • Where to Buy Cassia Cinnamon: Cassia cinnamon is commonly available in grocery stores, spice shops, and online retailers.
  • Cassia Cinnamon Origin: Cassia cinnamon originates from China.

3. Korintje Cinnamon

Korintje Cinnamon

Korintje cinnamon is a type of Cassia cinnamon that is grown and harvested in Indonesia and comes from the Cinnamomum burmannii tree. Korintje cinnamon is harvested in the same way as Cassia and Saigon cinnamon.

  • What Does Korintje Cinnamon Taste Like? Woody, sweet, smooth, with hints of clove and pepper.
  • Korintje Cinnamon Uses: Korintje cinnamon is reminiscent of holiday flavors, making it perfect to use in holiday baking or holiday cocktails. On the savory side, use Korintje cinnamon sticks in pickled foods like chutney, steamed in large pots of rice, or use ground Korintje cinnamon in Indonesian curries and other types of curries.
  • Where to Buy Korintje Cinnamon: Korintje cinnamon is mostly carried by online suppliers and specialty spice shops, but can sometimes be found in chain department stores.
  • Korintje Cinnamon Origin: Korintje cinnamon is grown in Indonesia.

4. Saigon Cinnamon

Saigon Cinnamon

Saigon cinnamon is a type of Cassia cinnamon that is grown and harvested in the central mountain forests of Vietnam and comes from the Cinnamomum loureiroi tree. Saigon cinnamon is harvested in the same way as Korintje cinnamon, but Saigon cinnamon has a higher essential oil content. This makes Saigon cinnamon’s unique flavors more pronounced than Korintje’s.

  • What Does Saigon Cinnamon Taste Like? Robust, spicy, sharp, rich, and sweet.
  • Saigon Cinnamon Uses: Because Saigon cinnamon has such a pronounced taste, it’s best used in cinnamon-forward recipes like cinnamon rolls, coffee cake, pumpkin pie spice mix, snickerdoodles, and different types of donuts that use a lot of cinnamon.
  • Where to Buy Saigon Cinnamon: Saigon cinnamon is carried by some chain department stores and grocery stores, and can be purchased from spice shops and online retailers.
  • Saigon Cinnamon Origin: Saigon cinnamon originates from Vietnam.

Cassia vs Ceylon Cinnamon

Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon have different tastes, textures, and bark colors. Cassia cinnamon is strong in both flavor and texture, with a dark brown color. Ceylon cinnamon is softer and more refined in flavor and texture with a light brown hue. These differences are due to how the cinnamons are grown and harvested. These two factors matter so much that Ceylon has an exponentially higher price point than Cassia because of Ceylon's tedious growing and harvesting process.

Cassia vs Ceylon Cinnamon

Where Does Cinnamon Come From?

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of various evergreen trees that are in the Cinnamomum genus. There are hundreds of trees in the Cinnamomum genus, but only a few makeup most cinnamon production. These trees are mostly grown on cinnamon plantations in countries such as Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Myanmar.

How Does Cinnamon Grow

How Does Cinnamon Grow?

Cinnamon originally grows as the inner bark of an evergreen tree. It takes these trees at least 2 years to grow before their cinnamon is ready for a sustainable and responsible harvest.

How Is Cinnamon Harvested?

When it's time to harvest cinnamon, the outside of the cinnamon tree's bark is peeled off and scraped, exposing the inner bark. The larger pieces that are cut off from the inner bark will be turned into cinnamon powder, while the narrower pieces will be sun-dried and cured into cinnamon sticks.

How Does Ceylon Cinnamon Grow?

Ceylon cinnamon takes patience and time to grow right from the start. When a Ceylon tree, Cinnamomum Verum, is first planted, the farmers must allow the tree to grow for four years before they can harvest any cinnamon from its inner bark. These trees are cared for throughout the entire year so they can be suitable for the harvesting season.

How Is Ceylon Cinnamon Harvested?

Ceylon cinnamon is harvested when its tree’s bark is still moist, most preferably early in the morning. Moist tree bark is favorable because it is easier to work with than dry branches. Once ready to harvest, farmers cut the Ceylon trees down near the root so they can grow back more quickly. The growers hack the entire tree and all its branches off with an axe.

After the tree branches are harvested, the peelers must remove the tree’s nodes, then the outer bark of the tree. Once the inner bark is exposed, the peeler will delicately shave off and strip the inner bark by hand with a special tool. The inner bark must be shaved off extremely thinly to produce the best quills of cinnamon. The peelers try to achieve a 1" width of stripped inner bark.

Once the bark has been removed, the pieces are laid out to cure and dry under the sun. This causes the pieces to curl into tender and soft quills, which are then stuffed with small pieces of more inner bark layers to keep the outer quill intact. The process is so tedious that even a master peeler only produces around three pounds of quills per day.

The cinnamon quills then dry in the sunlight for three or four days. After drying, they’re sent to a separate facility to be graded and priced. Their worth is determined by their width, density, color, and essential oil content. Usually, the highest quality of Ceylon cinnamon takes four times longer to produce than the lowest quality of cinnamon. Any broken or cracked pieces of Ceylon cinnamon are made into a ground powder form.

Where Does Cinnamon Grow?

Cinnamon is grown in Asia, the West Indies, and South America. Some of these countries include Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

How to Use Cinnamon Sticks

There are three different ways you can use cinnamon sticks:

  1. Keep Them Whole: Whole cinnamon sticks can be used for steeping into soups, sauces, broths, milk, and even while making mulled wine. You can also keep them whole to steam into rice or in a slow cooker that’s breaking down meat to impart a soft cinnamon flavor that will build up the richness of your dish. Whole cinnamon sticks also make a great decoration on fall and winter cakes and other baked goods.
  2. Make Freshly Ground Cinnamon: If you want the freshest-tasting cinnamon possible, purchase whole sticks of cinnamon and grind them down into a cinnamon powder. Try this tactic next time your recipes call for ground cinnamon and taste the difference it makes!
  3. Crack Into Smaller Pieces: Breaking your cinnamon sticks into smaller pieces allows you to steep these broken quills into teas and other hot beverages.

How Much Cinnamon Is in a Stick?

One cinnamon stick yields 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

Where to Buy Cinnamon Sticks

You can buy cinnamon sticks at most grocery stores, spice shops, or online suppliers.

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How to Grind Cinnamon Sticks

Awaken cinnamon’s freshest flavor by using an electric spice grinder or a mortar and pestle to grind cinnamon into a fine powder. If you wish to only use a small portion of the cinnamon stick at a time, you can swipe the cinnamon stick back and forth on a handheld grater.

Cinnamon Sticks vs Ground

Ground cinnamon is desiccated from bigger pieces of cinnamon. Ground cinnamon does not have as much potency as cinnamon sticks because the ground cinnamon loses its potency as soon as it is desiccated. Cinnamon sticks can be more expensive than ground cinnamon, but they will pack in a ton of extra flavor.

How Long Does Cinnamon Last?

When stored properly in an airtight container, ground cinnamon can last for about 2 to 3 years. Although, it is best to try and use ground cinnamon within six months. Cinnamon sticks can last around 4 to 5 years when stored properly in an airtight container as well. And, yes, spices can go bad.

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What might seem like one type of shaved and cured tree bark to the untrained eye may be what enriches your dish with a whole new flavor contour. With so many different types of cinnamon grown throughout the world, each with its own unique flavor, a seemingly simple spice can impart a whole new experience.

Posted in: Kitchen & Cooking Tips | Bakeries | By Val Goodrich
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