This post is part of a monthly series here on FBC called The Spice Box. Primarily written by Michelle Peters Jones, these posts will create a spice primer for new and experienced home cooks alike! Have a spice you'd like to see profiled? Let us know in the comments.
Latin Name: Cinnamomum Verum
I don't know anyone who can resist the warm, soothing fragrance of cinnamon. This aromatic spice is used in everything from mulled wine to delicately spiced curries, to mouthwatering cinnamon buns and baking all kinds of goodies. Cinnamon has been prized everywhere since it was discovered by the Egyptians in about 2000 BC. It's not surprising that it is a staple in Middle Eastern cooking as well as in cuisines from all over the world. Mexican cuisine prizes its 'cannella' and no Indian spice cupboard is complete without its distinctive curls and bark.
There are several varieties of cinnamon. In this piece I will be focusing on the genus called 'true' cinnamon that is commonly grown in Sri Lanka (Ceylon Cinnamon). Another piece on its sister spice, cassia bark will be coming soon.
'True' Cinnamon is the variety that you are most likely to see in regular Western supermarkets. It is sold in curly quills or ground. Ground cinnamon is used regularly in pretty much any or all of baking and cooking recipes that call for just cinnamon. The quills tend to be used whole, usually to flavour the recipe, and tend to be removed at the end. Mulled wine, for example, or Horchata tend to use the quills whole as flavoring. You can also grate or powder up these quills, as they are not as hard as cassia bark.
'True' Cinnamon is mainly produced in Sri Lanka, also known as Ceylon and the southern states of India, and the majority of the crop produced is exported. It has a fascinating colonial history, and is considered a spice fit for kings. 'True' Cinnamon is painstaking to produce, as the bark has to be first carefully stripped off, after which the inside of the tree is gently stripped into thin layers. These layers have to be processed quickly, at which point they curl into their characteristic quills. There are several grades of cinnamon, and are usually graded on colour, aroma and appearance.
Along with its use in the culinary world, cinnamon is also used in the perfume industry, where its essential oils form the base of many perfumes. A lower grade of cinnamon is used in home fragrance and the candle industry.
'True' Cinnamon - Flavour Profile
Of course, the major profile of 'True' Cinnamon is its sweet, intensely fragrant, warm, woody aroma. Ceylon cinnamon has also been known to have a slightly citrussy flavour to it. It is an instantly distinguishable spice and is used in pretty much all kinds of cooking and baking. A powerful spice, a little goes a long way here. Its particularly good paired with chocolate, as the Mexicans do.
You can buy cinnamon in any supermarket. However, it's worth buying whole cinnamon from Asian groceries where they have a high turnover of spices, as the flavour does degrade once it's been ground. Whole cinnamon will also degrade in flavour, but not as much as ground, and it's a pretty stable spice otherwise.
And finally... did you know that South East Asians call cinnamon 'kayu manis' or sweet wood? Now that's a description which completely awakens the romantic in me.
The second image in this post is courtesy of Michelle Peters Jones