And it is an essential spice in Chinese cuisine. Ground, it is one of the constituents of five-spice powder; whole, it is frequently added to flavor braised dishes.
In the Caribbean, it is in Jerk seasoning. In Mexico, it appears with chocolate and chili powder in Mole sauces. In the U.S., it is used in barbecue rubs and sauces.
Cinnamon is the bark of three bushy evergreen trees of the laurel (Lauraceae) family. The most fragrant and delicate cinnamon is obtained from the Cinnamomum zeylanicum tree native to Sri Lanka (which used to be called 'Ceylon'), the western coast of India (known as the Malabar coast), and Burma. Zeylanicum cinnamon is sometimes called 'true cinnamon' and 'old fashioned cinnamon.' But the 'true' part was just advertising copy for the Dutch East India Company's 17th century monopoly.
Cinnamon is also derived from the Cinnamomum loureirii tree native to Indonesia and the Cinnamomum cassia tree native to China, Vietnam, and Sumatra. The cinnamon from the loureirii and cassia trees is darker and more pungent and aromatic than cinnamon from the zeylanicum tree.
Chinese cassia is a close relative to Ceylon cinnamon (C. verum), Saigon cinnamon (C. loureiroi, also known as "Vietnamese cinnamon"), and Indonesian cinnamon (C. burmannii).
Cassia cinnamon is what most Americans are used to and is the preferred cinnamon in Southern Europe. So don't let the term 'true cinnamon' confuse you; cassia cinnamon is just as true as zeylancium.
Neither Grieve, King nor Felter distinguish the cinnamon varieties medicinally – Grieve simply asserting that they all act alike, and King's covers all varieties in one listing, as 'The barks of numerous species of Cinnamomum.' Medicinally, they all act the same, although there are subtle taste differences.
Cassia cinnamon has a more intense and less fragrant aroma than zeylanicum (Ceylon) cinnamon. It is sweet, warm, pungent, and slightly astringent. Zeylanicum (Ceylon) cinnamon is pale in color, and more delicate, more fragrant, not as pungent, and not as sweet. It has a slight citrus flavor. Zeylanicum (Ceylon) cinnamon is more expensive than cassia, and better to use in sweet dishes and cakes.
Cassia nips the tongue and is more suited to spiced meats, stews, rice dishes, curries, pancake and waffle batters, cinnamon rolls, and flavored drinks. Cassia cinnamon sticks are reddish brown, thick, and coarse in texture. They are the sticks Americans are accustomed to and use in mulled cider and wine. Zeylanicum cinnamon sticks are pale in color, thin, and look like a roll of dried paper; they are delicate and crumble easily.
Cassia cinnamon, depending on its origin or strain, is also known as Chinese, Vietnamese (Saigon), and Korintje (Sumatran) cinnamon. Each has its own distinctive taste.
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