Welcome to Spice School

It’s spice talk time.  I think it is really important that we talk about this as spices are ubiquitous in our everyday baking lives and we should really know more about them.  Spices are like best friends that we use constantly, but mindlessly.  It’s time to get all up and personal with the spice jar.  

If we are going to dig down into the botanical mess of spices there is only one place to start; cinnamon.  One of the most used spices in many of our kitchens, the well known flavor is generally adored.  But is our beloved red powder actually cinnamon?  Chances are, if you have “ground cinnamon” in your spice cabinet you actually have “cassia”, cinnamon’s not-so-evil impostor.  

The US does not require specification of what type of “cinnamomum” consumers are actually purchasing.  True “cinnamon” or “cinnamomum zeylanicum”has several differences from the “cassia”,“cinnamomum cassia”, or“chinese cinnamon” we are accustomed to baking with.  Cinnamomum zeylanicum, (alias Ceylon Cinnamon, alias Sri Lanka Cinnamon) has been long valued for it’s ancient uses in embalming, flavoring, religious ceremonies and at times even witchcraft.  This spice was once more valuable than gold and one of the most profitable spices in the trading industries.  The quills, which come from the dried inner bark of a bushy evergreen tree are light brown in color.  Their flavor is described as “delicate and sweet”.  Cassia on the other hand delivers much more pungent flavors.  The deep red bark proves to be a great deal stronger than that of “cinnamomum zeylanicum”.  Cassia grows in the regions of China, Vietnam and Indonesia.  Vietnamese (Saigon) cinnamon is especially valued.  So which one should we use?  Whatever the heck you want to use.  There is no right or wrong, it is entirely dependent on preference.  Personally, I love my Cassia.  The warm, aromatic kick is what I want in most of my baking.  I do keep the real stuff on hand for certain uses, but if you have to pick just one I would go with a good Saigon Cassia variety. 

I’m glad we had this talk, let’s go dust the world with cinnamon, or cassia…whatever.    


Pedantic Foodie