The familiar spice cinnamon is prepared from the aromatic bark of the tree of that name. Cassia, also known as Chinese cinnamon, is a different plant but with a very similar flavor. Both cinnamon and cassia are used in the same way, many times they are treated as if they were the same spice. In fact, most of what we find under the label "cinnamon" is actually cassia.
Facts about cinnamon or cassia
Cinnamon was once a rare and expensive. Moses used it to anoint the Ark of the Covenant. It was also one of the gifts the Queen of Sheba presented to King Solomon who valued it as a treasure. Nero burnt a whole year’s supply of cinnamon at the funeral of his wife, Poppaea, a fact deeply deplored by Plinii.
Although it was not cheap, cinnamon, together with ginger, became a household staple in medieval times. It was used in the one-pot meals and fruit dishes popular at that time.
Cinnamon is still employed extensively in Asian cuisine for both, sweet and savory dishes. In Western cuisine, it has been limited to sweet dishes and desserts, like custards, creams, cakes, cookies and other baked goods.
How to Identify cinnamon & cassia
Cinnamon is the dried pale brown inner bark of a tree. The tree trunk is covered with a double bark. The inner bark, after it has been stripped from the tree, is laid down to dry under a hot sun. It curls up like a sheet of wrapping paper. Several strips of this bark are tied together and shipped as sticks of cinnamon. Later, they may be ground up, making powdered cinnamon.
Cassia is the thicker, coarser bark of another tree of the same family. It is of a reddish brown color. Cassia is dried in pieces up to 3 in (7.5 cm) long. Cassia has a darker brown color, a more forceful, harsh flavor and stronger aroma than cinnamon. True cinnamon -Ceylon cinnamon- flavor and aroma are more delicate and complex.
Cinnamon can be found in sticks or ground. The sticks are difficult to grind but they last longer and it is preferable to buy cinnamon in this form. The powder should be bought in small quantities to prevent loss of flavor and aroma. Cassia can be found in pieces or powdered.
How to use and store cinnamon and cassia
Pieces of the bark are used in pickling, preserving, flavoring puddings, and baked or stewed fruits, especially apples and pears. When ground, they are used for custards, creams, cakes and many other baked goods; sometimes mixed with allspice, nutmeg and cloves, they are essential in mincemeat. Cinnamon also flavores drinks, such as this café Mexicano or the way ground cinnamon and chocolate are sprinkled together over coffee to make a capuccino. Cinnamon is also used in hot drinks, punches and in mulled wine.
In the Middle East and Arab cooking, cinnamon is used to flavor soups and other savory dishes like lamb or other meat stews. In Indian cuisine, cinnamon is used in pilaus and aromatic curries. Cinnamon is an ingredient in garam masala. Cassia has a slightly bitter taste than cinnamon, but its uses are very much the same. Cassia buds are used in pickling. Cassia is also an ingredient in the Chinese five-spice powder.
Cooking with cinnamon & cassia
Rice puddding could not be easier than using a pressure cooker.
Cinnamon rice pudding
1 cup (200 g) short grain rice - arborio, bomba, shushi
1 cup (200 g) sugar
4 cups (1 l) milk
1 cinnamon stick 1 inch (2.5 cm) long
ground cinnamon to garnish
Place all the ingredients in the pressure cooker. Cook for 8-10 minutes on high pressure and release the steam by the slow method.
Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve still warm in Northern countries. Sprinkle with cinnamon and chill in the fridge for a refreshing Mediterranean dessert.
Cinnamon is a popular flavor. It goes well with apples and many other fruits, and is equally used in savory dishes such as mole or curry. From curries to desserts and bakins, there are many recipes flavored with cinnamon<, euther ground or as cinnamon stick.
An essential in Spanish desserts such as leche frita, crema catalana or cinnamon-lemon flan, to mention a few, or hot drinks such as wassail or hot mulled wine.
Cinnamon or cassia substitution
Use cinnamon or cassia indinstinctly and substitute one with the other in the same proportions.
Substitute 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon or 1-2 drops cinnamon extract for one 3 inch (7 cm) stick of cinnamon. Wrap ground cinnamon in cheesecloth if it is for mulling wine.
If no cinnamon or cassia is available in any form, substitute 1 tsp ground cinnamon with:
- 1/4-1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- 1/4-1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 1/2 apple pie spice (cinnamon + nutmeg + allspice)
- 1/2 pumpkin pie spice (cinnamon + nutmeg + ginger)
These work well for baking.
Cinnamon adds a sweet, fragrant and distinctive flavor to apple dishes, cakes, buns, cookies, puddings and curries.
Every cook has its own formula for garam masala, an Indian mixture of ground spices used to flavor food just before serving. Most often is will contain cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, cloves, ginger and pepper in equal parts.
Strong, sweet, piquant flavor, one used in Western cooking mainly in desserts, baking, with fruit and in punches, essential in many Arab or Indian spice mixes, flavoring also meat and vegetables in their cuisines.
How to grow cinnamon and cassia
Cinnamon and cassia trees grow in plantations, principally in hot, wet tropical climates. Cinnamon is grown in the tropical regions of India, Brazil, East and West Indies and Indian Ocean islands. Cassia originated in Burma and is now cultivated in the hot wet tropics in China, Indochina, East and Wes Indies and Central America.
Cinnamon and cassia trees are tropical evergreen trees belonging to the laurel family. Both have long shiny leaves. Cassia flowers are small and pale green, while cinnamon has small white flowers and purple black berries. The cinnamon tree can grow up to 10 ft (3 m).
cinnamomum verum syn. c. zeylanicum (lauraceae) - cinnamon.
German: Zimt, Zimstange.
cinnamomum cassia (lauraceae) - cassia, Chinese cinnamon.
French: Canelle chinois.
German: Chinesisch Zimt.
Italian: Canella cinese.
Spanish: Canela china.