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 use and store
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.
How to grow
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).
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
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.
cinnamomum verum syn. c. zeylanicum (lauraceae) - cinnamon - French: cannelle - German: zimt, zimstange - Italian: cannella - Spanish: canela.
cinnamomum cassia (lauraceae) - cassia, Chinese cinnamon - French: canelle Chinois - German: Chinesisch zimt - Italian: canella Cinese - Spanish: canela china.