When it comes to good ole cinnamon these days, there is a lot of confusion and plenty of buzz words to trip up the shopper when going out to purchase good quality cinnamon. With all the cooking shows, celebrity chefs and health gurus talking about their favorite cinnamon, not enough information is provided to guide the shopper in the right direction. As I researched the subject before writing this article, I was a little confused myself, because some of the information and terminology criss-crossed to keep me from coming to any real conclusions. What helped me to straighten it all out was my background in horticulture and familiarity with plant taxonomy, which is the naming and categorizing of plants.
To properly show you how to shop for the best cinnamon for the purpose it will be used, let’s speak in Latin for a moment. My cinnamon customers approach me asking if my cinnamon is from a certain country. Different species and different grades can come from the same country, so that isn’t a very good guide. Without a whole lesson in plant taxonomy, here’s the lowdown on cinnamon lingo.
The genus Cinnamomum has five species that are cultivated commercially and used worldwide. The typical grocery store cinnamon is a B or C grade of Cinnamomum aromaticum. Don’t let that species name fool you. This isn’t the best cinnamon available.
Cinnamomum loureiroi, also known as Vietnamese cinnamon, Vietnamese cassia or Saigon cinnamon, is more closely related to Cinnamomum cassia than Cinamomum verum, which we will get to later. It has a high essential oil content with 25% cinnamaldehyde. C. loureiroi has the highest oil content of all the species. Oil translates to flavor. “High oil” content means more flavor. It’s also more costly. The aroma of C. loureiroi is similar to C. cassia.
Cinnamomum cassia, also known as Chinese cinnamon, is the most commonly available cinnamon because of it’s strong, pleasantly bitter flavor that holds up well during cooking. This is the typical good quality cinnamon used in common baked goods and other processed foods.
Cinnamomum burmannii, frequently referred to as Korintje or Indonesian cinnamon is another species widely used and sold in better spice markets.
“True cinnamon” is Cinnamomum verum, also called Ceylon or Sri Lanka cinnamon. It has a milder, sweeter flavor and aroma, much of which is lost during cooking. 90% of it’s cultivation is in Sri Lanka. It is almost twice the cost of the other cinnamons.
Canella, which is found mainly in the produce section of food markets in the Southwest, Texas, Mexico and the Caribbean, is an entirely different plant from the cinnamon we are all familiar with. Having a flavor and aroma similar to Cinnamomum, canella, Canella winterana is sometimes referred to as cinnamon. It is also known as cinnamon bark, wild cinnamon and white cinnamon. And, this is what it may be called in Caribbean recipe cookbooks. In Latin America, it is used as a spice and as a medicine; but, in my experience with Canella in my own kitchen, it just doesn’t pack the punch that Cinnamomum does. It is best used whole stick in stews, braised dishes and beans.
Denton Spice Company carries Cinnamomum cassia Blume in powder form. It is a “high oil” cinnamon packing a lot of flavor. It is grown and processed in Vietnam. The cinnamon sticks and chips in the product line are sourced from two importers. These products will either be C. cassia or C. burmannii.
In the grocery stores and other markets, labeling may not contain all the information to advise you to species name and place of origin. That is where purchasing from a spice merchant can come in handy and make things a little easier. I have changed the labels of the cinnamon offered at Denton Spice Company to reflect all the information needed to help you, the shopper. If any questions linger, I am available in person at markets and events as well as via e-mail on the contact page of the website.
Now, where did I place that shaker of cinnamon? I’m ready for some cinnamon toast.