Cinnamon is one of those spices that we automatically think of when fall is rolling around and when sweets are on the menu, but the truth of the matter is that it is wonderful all year round and in both sweet and savory dishes, pastries, drinks, and more.
Let’s talk about what cinnamon is. If you have ever laid eyes on a stick of the stuff, you know it looks a bit like an old scroll of brownish-red parchment. These sticks (also known as quills – fun, right?) are actually the inner bark of the cinnamon tree. Wild!
Cinnamon trees are native to Ceylon which is a region in southern India. Now, it is grown in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Brazil, Vietnam, Madagascar, and more.
True cinnamon can be ground in a coffee grinder to create powdered cinnamon. It is comprised of many layers rather than a single coiled quill and is paler in color.
The flavor can also be described as warm, sweet, and pungent. This is attributed to cinnamaldehyde which is the essential oil of cinnamon. This oil gives the spice a delicate flavor that works so well in a variety of dishes.
There are many types of cinnamon other than Ceylon which include: Saigon, camphor laurel, Indonesian, and cassia. Heads up: Cassia isn’t technically cinnamon – more on that later.
Cinnamon like other spices should be stored in a cool and dark place where light isn’t constantly getting to it. Over time, it will lose its flavor, aroma, and pungency whether it is in quill form or ground.
Some dishes that get their iconic flavor from cinnamon include chai tea, cinnamon rolls, pumpkin pie, Indian butter chicken, lamb shawarma, and much, much more.
This spice has been known for its taste as well as its medicinal properties for thousands of years. It is loaded with antioxidants and is prized for its anti-inflammatory properties. It is thought to help fight fungal and bacterial infections, cancer, and even the risk of getting heart disease.
What can I use instead of cinnamon?
If you are fresh out of the stuff, nutmeg or allspice are going to be your go to spices. Keep in mind that these two are best used in moderation. To be on the safe side, use ¼ of what is called for in your recipe. If you want to go crazy use half nutmeg and half allspice.
Are cinnamon and cassia the same thing?
For the longest time, I thought so, but it turns out, that just isn’t the truth. In North America, what is labeled as “cinnamon” is most often actually cassia which is also known as Chinese cinnamon. This is harvested from the bark of the evergreen tree.
This is cheaper to produce and has a more subtle flavor than true cinnamon. Now, you might ask, should I adjust my recipes knowing that the flavor is less bold? 9 times out of 10, your recipe was tested using cassia so there is nothing to fret about.
Can cinnamon be spicy? For anyone who grew up eating Red Hots candy, you know that the answer to this question is without a doubt, yes. It is considered a warm spice because of the warming effect of it when you eat it or drink it. You can thank cinnamaldehyde for that spicy bite. In moderation, it shouldn’t be spicy, but in large amounts, it can pack a punch.