Okay, so an exposé on This Week for Dinner is definitely not as exciting as one on Entertainment Tonight…but it’s an exposé nonetheless! Did you know the cinnamon in your cupboard is not really cinnamon? Shocking, I know! The stuff pictured below is “true” cinnamon, called canela or ceylon. What most of us have lying around (ground or in sticks) is called cassia. (There’s a nice side-by-side photo on Wikipedia.)
Years ago, Alton Brown from Good Eats went on and on about how cassia cinnamon stinks and that ceylon, the “true” cinnamon, is the only way to go, blah blah blah. I thought it was interesting and then forgot the different names for everything. Until Lindsay (my super gourmet friend) pulled out her ceylon cinnamon to grind one day. Then it all came rushing back to me.
You may be asking yourself, what IS the difference and does it matter? If you really want to know, click “more” and keep reading!
Lindsay buys her whole spices online from The Spice House. She has also seen ceylon cinnamon at Cost Plus World Market and in the hispanic food section at the grocery store, and it can be sold ground or in rolls. Here is the description of ceylon cinnamon from The Spice House, which pretty much makes me want to buy it right now.
“These tightly-rolled quills are very delicate. They feel like parchment paper, which you can break apart with your fingertips. This is the preferred cinnamon in Europe and Mexico. It’s often called for in pickling, spiced pears or peaches, and in the brewing of hot cocoa.
You will find its flavor to be quite distinct from cassia cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon has a much lower volatile oil content, between 1 and 2%, but its flavor has a subtle complexity that you won’t experience with the stronger, spicier cassia. You might even notice the delicate flavor of citrus interwoven in the scent of this cinnamon.
The light, intricate flavor of Ceylon cinnamon makes it the cinnamon of choice for dishes which do not have a lot of conflicting flavors competing. It will star in such dishes as custard, cinnamon ice cream, Dutch pears, stewed rhubarb, steamed puddings, dessert syrups, or mixed into whipped cream.
Lindsay told me that she thinks ceylon cinnamon has citrusy overtones (which was the description in a cookbook she has), but that she’s never really been able to tell if it’s more “subtle” as is claimed because fresh spices are always more pungent than pre-ground. She’s never tried grinding rolls of cassia because it’s so thick and hard, so she’s only ever compared fresh ceylon with pre-ground cassia.
Lindsay also said that although ceylon cinnamon is considered “true” cinnamon, she doesn’t think ceylon vs. cassia is like cheese whiz vs. a good sharp cheddar – she likes both flavors and still uses cassia for some recipes.
So there you go! More about cinnamon than you probably ever wanted to know. But that’s what exposés are all about right?
(While reporters don’t normally go public with their “sources,” I don’t think cassia will be suing Lindsay for slander any time soon, so THANK YOU LINDSAY for the great info!)